USA Sues Exxon Fracker in Pennsylvania
22 July, 2013 WILLIAMSPORT,
House News) - The United States sued Exxon subsidiary XTO
Energy, claiming its hydraulic fracking has polluted public drinking
waters in Pennsylvania with toxic wastes.
The federal lawsuit was filed almost simultaneously with
reports from ABC , CBS and The Associated Press that claimed a
"landmark federal study" showed "no evidence that chemicals from the
natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water
aquifers at a western Pennsylvania drilling site."
Both the "landmark" study and the federal lawsuit involve
fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation.
The results of the study, done on a contract from the
Department of Energy, were called preliminary.
It alleged that the toxic chemicals that oil companies
injected into the ground to force natural gas or oil out of it
stayed below the aquifer from which Pennsylvanians pump drinking
But in the lawsuit, the United States cites XTO's natural
gas well pad and storage facility in Hughesville, Lycoming County,
for unauthorized discharges of flowback fluid and produced fluid.
Fracking is a big issue in energy-producing
Pennsylvania, though a complacent
Legislature has bent over to muzzle public debate on it.
One year ago, a physician sued the state , claiming it
passed an unconstitutional "Medical Gag
Rule" that prohibited him and other doctors from talking about
the effects of fracking on public heath.
Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez called Act 13 of 2012 a gift from the
Legislature to polluting energy drillers.
At the behest of the industry, Act 13 aka House Bill 1050
called the toxic slurry injected into the ground in fracking a
"trade secret," and barred Rodriguez and other doctors from talking
publicly about it.
Gov. Thomas Corbett signed the bill into law on Valentine's
In his lawsuit, Rodriguez, a kidney specialist, called the
trade-secret claim ridiculous, as well as unconstitutional.
He said he has patients who need clean drinking water for
their kidney diseases, and that he had "recently treated patients
directly exposed to high-volume hydraulic fracturing fluid as the
result of well blowouts, including a patient exposed to hydraulic
fracturing fluid who was admitted to the hospital with a complicated
diagnosis with low platelets, anemia, rash and acute renal failure
that required extensive hemodialysis and exposure to
The trade-secret claim is shaky, at best. It's well known
that frackers inject byproducts of the drilling process into rock
formations to crack them, and give natural gas a way to escape. Any
liquid at all would do the trick.
Rodriguez claimed that abiding by the Medical Gag Rule would
violate his professional oath and responsibilities. That litigation
In its recent complaint, the United States claims a state
inspector observed and documented pollutants as they were released
from XTO tanks and valves used in hydraulic fracturing, to flow
through the aquifer into public water.
XTO Energy is based in Fort Worth, Texas.
In its lawsuit, the United States says a National Pollutant
Discharge Elimination System permit may be issued to authorize
pollutant discharge into federal waters but only on the condition
that all discharges meet applicable Clean Water Act requirements,
which is not the case for the Lycoming County well.
Liquid injected into the wells during fracking generates a
byproduct known as flowback fluid, and wastewater byproduct from the
production of natural gas liquid is called produced fluid.
According to the complaint, "flowback fluid and produced
fluid contain brine, proppant, hydraulic fracturing chemicals,
dissolved solids, heavy metals and radionuclides."
The complaint continues: "At its facility, defendant stored
the flowback fluid and produced fluid in portable tanks, known as
Baker Tanks, to be recycled and then reused in its fracturing
operations at various wells throughout Pennsylvania and West
Defendant used mobile treatment equipment to recycle the
produced water from the Baker Tanks and at times stored produced
water to be transported off site to be recycled, so that the
produced water can be reused.
"On November 16, 2010, a state inspector conducted an
inspection at the Facility.
At this time, defendant had approximately 57 Baker Tanks on
the well pad at the northwest side of the facility, each having a
capacity of 21,000 gallons.
Defendant did not have the mobile treatment equipment at the
facility on this date.
"It was raining heavily during the inspection on November
16, 2010, and rainfall records in the area show that it rained
before the inspection and continued after the inspection.
"The state inspector observed an open valve on a 21,000
gallon Baker Tank.
The contents of the Baker Tank were being released to the
The Baker Tank was connected internally to five other Baker
tanks, all of which stored flowback fluid and produced fluid.
The flowback fluid and produced fluid stored in the tanks
contained, among other things: barium, calclium, iron, magnesium,
manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium, bromide, chloride, total
"The flowback fluid and produced fluid released from the
Baker Tank flowed overland to the drainage basin for the Lower
Branch of the Susquehanna River.
It also drained through the surface soils and into
groundwater, which was then released in seeps to a spring and in
unnamed tributary known as Tributary 19617."
The complaint says the fluids "entered the fracture system,"
and "recharged groundwater over time ... .
Sampling conducted after the release into Tributary 19617
and the unnamed spring showed that for up to sixty-five days
pollutants associated with natural gas extraction, such as total
dissolved solids, strontium, barium, bromides and chloride, were
The tributary feeds Sugar Run stream and Muncy Creek before
flowing into the Susquehanna River, all three of which are
perennial, navigable waters and protected from pollution by the
Clean Water Act.
Uncle Sam seeks civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day for
each violation after Jan. 12, 2009, and an injunction against
further Clean Water Act violations.
By ERIN MCAULEY
Used with permission under