XTO Energy Inc. to Restore Areas Damaged by Natural Gas Extraction Activities
Energy Company to Also Pay $2.3 Million Penalty to Resolve Clean Water Violations in West Virgina
The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that XTO Energy Inc. (XTO), a subsidiary of ExxonMobil and the nation’s largest holder of natural gas reserves, will spend an estimated $3 million to restore eight sites damaged by unauthorized discharges of fill material into streams and wetlands in connection with hydraulic fracturing operations. XTO will also implement a comprehensive plan to comply with federal and state water protection laws at the company’s oil and gas extraction facilities in West Virginia that use horizontal drilling methods.
“The extraction of domestic energy resources is vitally important, and so it is equally important that companies ensure that all such activities comply with the nation’s environmental laws,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement will resolve allegations that XTO’s illegal discharges of fill materials damaged streams and wetlands, by requiring the company to pay a penalty, restore the damaged resources where possible and take other mitigation and compliance measures.”
The company will pay a civil penalty of $2.3 million for violations of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and West Virginia law. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act prohibits the filling or damming of wetlands, rivers, streams, and other waters of the United States without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The Clean Water Act requires a company to obtain a permit prior to discharging dredge or fill material into wetlands, rivers, streams, and other waters of the United States.
The settlement also resolves alleged violations of state law asserted by WVDEP. The state of West Virginia is a co-plaintiff in the settlement and will receive half of the $2.3 million civil penalty.
“American communities expect EPA and our state partners to make sure energy development is done responsibly,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case will help to protect clean water in West Virginia, and support a level playing field for energy developers that play by the rules.”
The federal government and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) allege that the company impacted streams and discharged sand, dirt, rocks and other fill material into streams and wetlands without a federal permit in order to construct well pads, road crossings, freshwater pits, and other facilities related to natural gas extraction. The alleged violations being resolved by today’s settlement occurred at eight sites located in the West Virginia Counties of Harrison, Marion and Upshur. The federal government and WVDEP allege that the violations impacted more than 5,300 linear feet of stream, and 3.38 acres of wetlands.
The settlement requires that the company fully restore the wetlands and streams wherever feasible, monitor the restored sites to assure the success of the restoration, and implement a comprehensive compliance program to ensure future compliance with the Clean Water Act and applicable state law.
EPA discovered some of the violations through information provided by the state and through routine joint inspections conducted with the Corps, who actively supported the EPA and the Justice Department in this case. In addition, the company voluntarily disclosed potential violations at five of the sites following an internal audit. Beginning in 2011, EPA issued administrative compliance orders for violations at all eight sites. Since that time, the company has been working with EPA to correct the violations and restore those sites in full compliance with EPA’s orders.
In July 2013, the United States concluded a settlement with XTO to resolve an alleged violation of the Clean Water Act related to the discharge of wastewater from XTO’s Penn Township, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, facility used for the storage of wastewater generated by hydraulic fracturing operations.
Filling wetlands illegally and damming streams can result in serious environmental consequences. Streams, rivers, and wetlands benefit the environment by reducing flood risks, filtering pollutants, recharging groundwater and drinking water supplies, and providing food and habitat for aquatic species. Any person, firm or agency planning to work in, or discharge dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S., including wetlands, must first obtain a permit from the Corps. Compliance with the Corps’ permit process and regulations helps to ensure that enforcement actions like this one do not occur. For more information about the permitting process under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, contact: Regulatory.Permits@usace.army.mil.
XTO engages in the exploration and production of natural gas in the Appalachian Basin. The company has Marcellus Shale holdings in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.
The consent decree, lodged today in the Northern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval. The consent decree is available for review at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.