Exxon was surprised by an unannounced visit by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and three years later, they are being charged for what the regulators found: 50,000 gallons of waste water dumped from a shale gas drilling site. Now, the state of Pennsylvania is suing Exxon for the damage. The Pennsylvania Attorney General explains their complaint in charmingly stoic prose (emphasis mine):
“The illegal discharge of gas well waste water was discovered on Nov. 16, 2010, when an inspector with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) made an unannounced visit to the Marquardt site.
“According to the grand jury, during that visit a DEP inspector discovered that a rear discharge valve on a storage tank had been opened and a drain plug had been removed, causing gas well waste water to flow out of the storage tank onto the ground. There also was evidence of prior waste water discharges from other storage tanks at the Marquardt site.
“The grand jury found that between Nov. 12, 2010 and Nov. 16, 2010 more than 93,000 gallons of waste water was transported to and stored at the Marquardt site, of which approximately 57,000 gallons was unaccounted for following the spill.”
Exxon—surprise—is fighting the charge, and claiming that suing them for dumping 50,000 gallons of waste water into the ground would hurt, yes, hurt future attempts at making shale oil drilling more eco-friendly (emphasis mine):
“The criminal charges filed by the Attorney General are unprecedented and an abuse of prosecutorial discretion. There was no intentional, reckless, or negligent misconduct by XTO [Exxon]. The incident did not result in significant or lasting environmental harm. Charging XTO under these circumstances could discourage good environmental practices, such as recycling. The action tells oil and gas operators that setting up infrastructure to recycle produced water exposes them to the risk of significant legal and financial penalties should a small release occur.”
I was not aware that dumping 50,000 gallons of waste water into the ground is considered a “small release.” What’s an average release?
In simple terms, Exxon harmed the state of Pennsylvania, and for the future of environmental protection and the present of Pennsylvania, those harms need to be absorbed by Exxon.
Also, America, while I have your attention: producing energy to run our appliances, our heating and cooling systems, our events, our factories and our lives—it’s dirty business. We have cleaner alternatives. Solar isn’t perfect, but it’s getting better all the time, and the more we invest, the more price performance will improve. You can be more self-sufficient, improve the value of your home and do the planet a solid by putting a solar panel on your roof.