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Feds reach settlement with Exxon subsidiary with eye to fracking water best practices

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A subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp. is to pay a $100,000 penalty and implement an estimated $20 million in wastewater storage and management improvements under a federal settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice.

Under the settlement, XTO Energy Inc. has to spend what is estimated by the federal government at $20 million for a comprehensive plan to better wastewater management practices to recycle, dispose of properly and prevent spills of wastewater from gas exploration and production in the commonwealth and West Virginia, according to the release.

The settlement, which stems from an alleged incident in Lycoming County, calls for XTO Energy to install a continuous remote monitoring system for all its permanent production in the two states with alarms alerting operators immediately if any future spills happen, the release stated.

"This consent decree establishes a program of best practices that should be a model for the industry," Peter J. Smith, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, stated in the release.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had discovered the alleged discharge during an inspection at the Penn Township site, where an inspector observed wastewater coming from an open valve from a series of interconnected storage tanks, the federal news release stated.

The types of pollutants — including chlorides, barium, strontium and total dissolved solids — that were in the wastewater stored in the tanks were also found in a tributary in the Susquehanna River basin, according to the release.

The consent decree lodged in the U.S. Middle District of Pennsylvania is subject to a period for public comment of 30 days and court approval, according to the release issued last week.

The discharge goes back to November 2010 during produced water recycling at the site, said JD Estes, media adviser for XTO Energy. Workers set to work quickly to clean up the discharge, which led to no lasting environmental effects, he said.

The settlement is an appropriate closure for the issue, and XTO has been implementing the containment strategy in the agreement in the past 18 months, Estes said.

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