Pennsylvania’s Attorney General has filed criminal charges against ExxonMobil for illegally dumping tens of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste at a drilling site in 2010. The Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, had removed a plug from a wastewater tank, leading to 57,000 gallons of contaminated water spilling into the soil.
The Exxon subsidiary has contested the criminal charges, claiming there was “no lasting environmental impact,” and it can “discourage good environmental practices” from guilty companies. “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.” In July, XTO had agreed to several fines, including $20 million to improve its facilities treating wastewater.
The company’s response raises one good point about fracking practices: How much to disclose to the public is a largely self-regulated practice.Thanks to laws pushed by corporate front groups like American Legislative Exchange Council, sponsored by ExxonMobil, states have allowed minimum disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluid. Pennsylvania now requires disclosure to regulators; however, it has a “gag rule” on the health risks. Meanwhile, a July study found that the closer residents live to wells used in fracking, the more likely drinking water is contaminated, with 115 of 141 wells found to contain methane.
For years, the route oil companies have taken is to frack first, and fight pittance fines at a later point. Oil lobby chief Jack Gerard has argued that regulators cannot “fundamentally” issue and public health protections, due to the fact that the industry has created jobs. A pro-fracking report out recently, funded by the oil and gas industry, stresses the same point that economics take priority over precaution.