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CPBJ Extra Blog

Why charge gas firm after $20M best-practices commitment?

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The news that the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General had brought charges against an Exxon subsidiary related to a Marcellus Shale waste fluid incident in 2010 came as a bit of a surprise to me earlier this month.

In July, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement it had reached with XTO Energy Inc. related to the Lycoming County incident.

Under the terms, XTO would spend an estimated $20 million for wastewater best practices in two states, including Pennsylvania.

A statement specifically mentioned a continuous remote monitoring system for all its permanent production in the two states with alarms alerting operators immediately if any future spills happen.

"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, said in the statement.

A model for the industry. That's the key part of all of this.

Sure, in general, frack fluid getting into the environment is not a good thing.

And, don't get me wrong. I wholly enjoy the scenic beauty of this part of the state. I was just there this weekend. If the full extent of the allegations lodged against XTO would be upheld in court, I'd truly be sad and angry something like this happened on the commonwealth's soil.

But do these charges undo the alleged leak? No, you'd need a time machine for that.

The best you can hope for is a punishment aimed at reform, and agreeing to reform is exactly what it looks like the EPA already got out of XTO.

Everyone should do as much as possible to hold XTO to its commitments but, at the same time, a company doing business under heightened standards should be allowed to be a model for the industry.

Maybe this is a fishing expedition for more commitments, and in that I could see merit. Maybe.

But a better use of state resources would be to make sure there aren't other incidents out there such as what was alleged against XTO instead of piling on this case.

Unless I'm missing something here?

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