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Earth Crime

Exxon Charged With Illegally Dumping Waste In Pennsylvania 246

Posted by samzenpus
from the looks-like-you-spilled-something dept.
Exxon has been charged with illegally dumping over 50,000 gallons of wastewater at a shale-gas drilling site in Pennsylvania. From the article: 'Exxon unit XTO Energy Inc. discharged the water from waste tanks at the Marquandt well site in Lycoming County in 2010, according to a statement on the website of Pennsylvania’s attorney general. The pollution was found during an unannounced visit by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The inspectors discovered a plug removed from a tank, allowing the wastewater to run onto the ground, polluting a nearby stream. XTO was ordered to remove 3,000 tons of soil to clean up the area. Wastewater discharged from natural-gas wells can contain chlorides, barium, strontium and aluminum, the attorney general’s statement showed. “Criminal charges are unwarranted and legally baseless,” the XTO unit said yesterday in a statement posted on its website. “There was no intentional, reckless or negligent misconduct by XTO.”'
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Exxon Charged With Illegally Dumping Waste In Pennsylvania

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  • by eksith (2776419) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:55PM (#44825831) Homepage
    I'm getting sick of these companies getting away with fines or other slaps on the wrist. I want to see at least some of these thugs in the upper tiers behind bars!
    • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @10:02PM (#44825895) Homepage Journal

      I'm getting sick of these companies getting away with fines or other slaps on the wrist. I want to see at least some of these thugs in the upper tiers behind bars!

      Mayhap a trail of emails or (shudder) NSA monitored phones can catch them.

      Wastewater discharged from natural-gas wells can contain chlorides, barium, strontium and aluminum,

      Sounds like the average energy drink...

      • by jythie (914043)
        Nah, profits define morality, so by the NSA's standards they are doing nothing wrong. Now if they were polluting for free they might get in trouble.
      • by AJH16 (940784)

        FUEL energy drink perhaps?

    • No (Score:5, Funny)

      by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @10:08PM (#44825925)
      they're your ruling class, silly. We don't spill the blood of kings.
      • by asm2750 (1124425)
        Obviously you haven't heard of the French Revolution.
        • Unfortunately the French Revolution was very indiscriminate.

          see: Antoine Lavoisier

      • by chthon (580889)

        Where's old Stoneface when you need him?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      I want to see at least some of these thugs in the upper tiers behind bars!

      I'd be happy to see them eat their own dog food. Put a GPS ankle-bracelet on them and make them live on the polluted land and drink the polluted water.

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      I certainly agree that I'd like criminal charges applied to decision makers at companies like this. BUT...

      50,000 gallons isn't that much water. It was a 10,000 gallon-per-day spill. That's garden-hose territory. The fact that they were made to clean it up and pay fines seems reasonable to me - I'm not sure jail time is warranted here.

      • by nicobigsby (1418849) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @10:47PM (#44826175)
        The problem is the goddamn double standard. Spray a few ounces of spray paint on a wall, and you get criminal charges pressed against you. Hell there was a guy arrested for writing in chalk outside Bank of America, on the sidewalks... wash away chalk. But dump 50k gallons of polluted water into the wild and it's all NBD.
        • by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @11:03PM (#44826281)

          But they didn't deliberately deface anything - they left a plug out of a tank, which leaked contaminated water at a rate which may not have seemed significant. They seem to have made good on the cleanup. Intent matters - that's why we have murder and manslaughter.

          • by ireallyhateslashdot (2297290) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @11:21PM (#44826397)
            And also why we have such a thing as "negligence". They apparently were negligent; either in their maintenance protocols, equipment checks, or, well, making sure that contaminated waste is securely and safely managed. I would say that that warrants a criminal charge, but that's just my opinion.
            • There's a big difference between negligence and criminal negligence. Years ago my foreman was in a hurry and turned the bubbler too high on a rubber latex storage tank, when the factory owner drove in two hours later the rear car park was covered in several tons of liquid rubber latex. The foreman was certainly negligent since he took a shortcut (I saw him do it) but rather than owning up to his mistake the coward lied and convinced the owner it was my fault with the result that I got the sack before I kne
              • by h4rr4r (612664)

                If is is deliberate it is not negligence. That is the whole point. This leak was negligent but not intentional. Negligent is enough for criminal charges. Had the cap leaked from being cross threaded instead of totally left out, that would be accidental.

            • by MightyYar (622222)

              Any human endeavor will involve mistakes. Sending some poor slob to jail for forgetting to put a plug in is not really justified IMHO. Sending his manager to jail for not double-checking is once removed from that. Sending his VP to jail starts to get even more absurd. The company needs to own up and make good, but jail wouldn't be very effective here.

              Note that my wife is a doctor, so I may have a skewed view of the tort system. I'd hate to see her go to jail for an inevitable mistake, or one by one of the s

              • by h4rr4r (612664)

                Bullshit, failure to have someone double check that sort of thing is negligence.

                Everyone makes mistakes, the problem is not bothering to plan for them. I saw a nurse fired when a doctor instructed her to cut a patient's facial hair with scissors instead of the correct tool, she ended up nicking some hoses. The nurse was in the wrong, the doctor was negligent. He instructed someone to use the wrong tool, knowing this might happen, just so he could get out of the office a little sooner that day. The patient w

                • by MightyYar (622222)

                  They ARE being charged with criminal offenses:
                  "XTO Energy Inc. is charged with five counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law and three counts of unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act."

                  It just doesn't involve jail.

                  • by h4rr4r (612664)

                    Which means they might as well be civil offenses.

                    • by h4rr4r (612664)

                      You mean nightmares like laughing while you pay the fine and plead no contest?

                      I would love to see some of the implications. So far BP seems totally fine.

                    • by MightyYar (622222)

                      Perfectly fine? Take a look at the 5-year stock price chart for Exxon vs BP. That's on top of the cash payments (to the owners, the dividend hit). Total return since just before the spill [msn.com] is very poor. Someone who purchased $10k worth of stock in BP is down over $5800 compared to someone who bought Exxon, and down almost $2900 in absolute terms.

          • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

            They seem to have made good on the cleanup. Intent matters - that's why we have murder and manslaughter.

            Then again, people do go to jail for manslaughter as well as murder.

          • But they didn't deliberately deface anything - they left a plug out of a tank, which leaked contaminated water at a rate which may not have seemed significant. They seem to have made good on the cleanup. Intent matters - that's why we have murder and manslaughter.

            It's still negligence, contrary to the AG's statement “There was no intentional, reckless or negligent misconduct by XTO.”'

      • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

        50,000 gallons isn't that much water. It was a 10,000 gallon-per-day spill. That's garden-hose territory. The fact that they were made to clean it up and pay fines seems reasonable to me - I'm not sure jail time is warranted here.

        Wouldn't that sort of depend on what was in the water? That's 6 gallons per minute. It is a bit of a witches brew they are spewing in my backyard. Gasoline? Sulfuric acid? You'd support that being dumped in your backyard?

        The real blast from TFA is:

        “Charging XTO under these circumstances could discourage good environmental practices,”

        We've only been told for years that we must punish all offenders heavily.

        It only follows that if we remove all environmental restrictions, no fines, no p

        • by khallow (566160)

          We've only been told for years that we must punish all offenders heavily.

          Told by idiots. What's your take on the War on Drugs? All drug carrying offenders must be punished heavily, amirite?

      • by daem0n1x (748565)

        50,000 gallons isn't that much water. It was a 10,000 gallon-per-day spill. That's garden-hose territory.

        I'd like to see your garden. Looks like it may make a great football field.

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          No, seriously. I think a garden hose is around 300 GPH, and this works out to 416 GPH. It's not that big of a flow and I could buy their claim that they didn't know they were leaking.

      • I certainly agree that I'd like criminal charges applied to decision makers at companies like this. BUT...

        50,000 gallons isn't that much water. It was a 10,000 gallon-per-day spill. That's garden-hose territory. The fact that they were made to clean it up and pay fines seems reasonable to me - I'm not sure jail time is warranted here.

        I can't see how they can claim it is neither negligent nor deliberate - as far as I can see the only reason you wouldn't consider this to be negligent is if it was done intentionally.

        So whilst it may not be a serious spill, I would say that they need to be punished either for doing it deliberately (for which there is no excuse), or for trying to weasel out of it instead of just admitting that an accident had happened and cleaning it up.

        If it turned out to not be deliberate, and they didn't try to weasel out

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          They were held accountable. They had to remove soil and paid a fine. They are also being charged under environmental laws in the state of PA - I'm just not sure how jail time would help here. I tend to be anti-jail for nonviolent offenders, so maybe I'm just biased.

      • by Politburo (640618)
        Dunno about you, I would notice if my garden hose was on continuously for 5 days... and it's not spouting wastewater.

        They have a duty to operate at all times in accordance with good environmental practice. Leaving a tank open for 5 minutes, let alone 5 days, does not seem to meet that standard. This is not some paperwork violation. Pursuing the case criminally sends a very strong and imo correct message to operators.
    • Yeah, we don't put enough people behind bars here in America. . .

      Incarceration has few benefits and many drawbacks. It should be reserved for people who have genuinely proven themselves to be dangerous for society. "Throw 'em in jail" is a knee-jerk reaction and it's done more harm than good in the past. Examples such as alcohol prohibition and the 'war on drugs' are obvious.

      I would be that imposing prison time for offenses such as this would only make top-tier corporate culture even more corrupt. Once a pe

    • When XTO provides 36% of all taxes paid in Lycoming County, they are probably willing to look the other way.
      • by firex726 (1188453)

        What about other Counties?
        Rivers don't just stop at the county line. Pollutants can be carried down stream, and make it into groundwater for an entire state.

    • by cirby (2599) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @10:28PM (#44826049)

      It's according to how much actual toxic waste was in the water.

      While the article (and the excerpt above) mention a list of scary chemicals that "can" be found in wastewater from natural gas drilling, it's also quite possible that the major component was... mud. And a small percentage of oil (usually three percent or less, and even lower for a natural gas well, all the way down to "practically zero") - and other not-very-toxic stuff. Or "toxic chemicals" found in parts per million or lower. If they were using fracking chemicals, the mud might have had some bleach and surfactants in it.

      Now, if the rock they were drilling through had a high metal content, the water may have picked up some of that - but probably not too much, overall. Enough to break water standards, but not enough to be actually dangerous.

      Since there's no charges, it was probably low-concentration stuff - a technical violation, but not serious.

      • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

        Now, if the rock they were drilling through had a high metal content, the water may have picked up some of that - but probably not too much, overall. Enough to break water standards, but not enough to be actually dangerous.

        Since there's no charges, it was probably low-concentration stuff - a technical violation, but not serious.

        I can get you some of this stuff if you want to drink it. After all - you declared it not actually dangerous and a technical but not serious violation.

      • by hxnwix (652290)

        It's according to how much actual toxic waste was in the water.

        While the article (and the excerpt above) mention a list of scary chemicals that "can" be found in wastewater from natural gas drilling, it's also quite possible that the major component was... mud. And a small percentage of oil (usually three percent or less, and even lower for a natural gas well, all the way down to "practically zero") - and other not-very-toxic stuff. Or "toxic chemicals" found in parts per million or lower. If they were using fracking chemicals, the mud might have had some bleach and surfactants in it.

        Now, if the rock they were drilling through had a high metal content, the water may have picked up some of that - but probably not too much, overall. Enough to break water standards, but not enough to be actually dangerous.

        Since there's no charges, it was probably low-concentration stuff - a technical violation, but not serious.

        Dear lord, drilling mud is more than just plain mud. "Parts per million! Who cares about a few parts per million!?"

        Those are the parts that get you!

    • by fl!ptop (902193) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @12:03AM (#44826637) Journal

      Explain that one to me again?

      Because shit happens. I've worked at several big chemical plants and all of them have had spills. (To me, this sounds like a "spill" and not "dumping waste.") It's just the nature of the beast, nothing works perfectly all the time. At one plant in particular, vandals/kids/idiots with too much time on their hands got onto the property (not hard to do when the facility covers thousands of acres) and removed a cover off a pipe, causing thousands of gallons of water with a ph of about 1 to flow into a nearby stream, which eventually made its way into the bay and caused a large fish kill. Yes, the company was fined. Yes, corrective action was taken to avoid it from happening again.

      From what I read, Exxon cleaned up the contaminated area as best they could. I seriously doubt the spill was done on purpose. I live in the middle of frack-land and these oil companies are spending millions buying/leasing mineral rights, hauling equipment in and out, drilling, fracking, trucking out wastewater and hauling equipment away. Millions of dollars are spent at each drill site. They're not going to risk "dumping" wastewater to save a few bucks on having it hauled away.

      • They're not going to risk "dumping" wastewater to save a few bucks on having it hauled away.

        Yes, 'hauled away'... somewhere... somewhere else... someone else's problem...

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuyahoga_River#Environmental_concerns [wikipedia.org]

      • by Politburo (640618)
        Yes, shit happens. This is why environmental laws include an "affirmative defense", which more or less says you are not liable for shit happening.

        However one component of affirmative defense is that you were operating in accordance with sound engineering principles and good environmental practice. A tank being opened for 5 days does not appear to meet that standard.

        Simply cleaning up your mess is generally not sufficient recourse for environmental releases. There should always be a penalty component to pr
  • Yes, it happens (Score:4, Interesting)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:57PM (#44825853)
    And it will continue to happen, no matter the technology.
    Nuke, frak, solar panel production, high capacity battery production....some idiot middle manager will try to reduce costs at his level, and this is what we get.
  • I'm not sure the public is surprised these days by either talk of a violation/spill or a 'statement' from the corp insisting no wrong doing occurred. This is driven, as always, by the corp. lawyers. They want as little talk of culpability as possible in public so they can cut deals in court and get their client off with as little penalty as they can swing.

    What I want to see is the difference between legal and illegal 'dumping'. Sounds redundant, emotional and perhaps an attempt to make things either wors
  • From TFA:

    XTO Energy Inc. is charged with five counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law and three counts of unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act.

    What does it mean for a corporation to face criminal charges? Is this just civil damages in a weird format, or is a specific person/people being held liable? Both linked articles refer only to XTO and not to any individual being charged.

    • by chromaexcursion (2047080) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @10:19PM (#44826005)
      A corporation's board of directors are legally responsible for the company's actions.
      Failure to appear when subpoenas are issued will have serious consequences for the billionaires.
      You can't just send a lawyer to represent you in a criminal court.
      Forcing the people that run the company to show up in court will send a message.
      • Corporations always indemnify directors and officers for actions they take on behalf of the corporation.

        Otherwise NOBODY would accept such a position.

      • A corporation's board of directors are legally responsible for the company's actions.

        Failure to appear when subpoenas are issued will have serious consequences for the billionaires.

        You can't just send a lawyer to represent you in a criminal court.

        Forcing the people that run the company to show up in court will send a message.

        And seeing them walk out again afterwards will send another message.

  • In Q2 2010, (around when the dumping was occurring), Exxon reported its worst quarterly profits in years. Some might say that explains this, while not excusing this. Corporate pressure to cut budgets was driving lower managers, etc. However, in that -low- quarter, guess how much net profit (not gross revenue) they reported?

    6.86 billion dollars

    (source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/08/01/exxon-2q-profit-lowest-since-2010/2608403/ [usatoday.com] )

    Yep. In one fucking poor quarter they earned nearl

  • by SIR_Taco (467460) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @10:29PM (#44826063) Homepage

    "The inspectors discovered a plug removed from a tank, allowing the wastewater to run onto the ground, polluting a nearby stream." ...
    “There was no intentional, reckless or negligent misconduct by XTO.”'

    Not intentional.... okay.
    Not reckless nor negligent?! I think someone needs to check the meaning of those words in a non-lawyer dictionary.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      Not reckless nor negligent?! I think someone needs to check the meaning of those words in a non-lawyer dictionary.

      These imply intent. Reckless and negligent are words used to describe plants with poor operating controls, poor maintenance, and large problems caused by cost cutting. The inspectors found something, so now they look at the inspection scheme they have, they identify if the inspections were sufficient, if the company would have found the problem themselves and fixed it, or simply ignored it, and they would also look at the company's history of self reporting.

      You can spill a lot more and not be "negligent". S

  • Of big business controlling the gov't

    Why not just fine Exxon 3 billion dollars and send everyone in PA to college for free?

  • Free Market (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947)

    That wasn't "wastewater", that was Exxon's proprietary formula of Hydroxylic Acid. And any children who are found with Hyrdoxylic Acid in their bloodstream better get ready get sued by Exxon.

    Job CreatorsTM, bitches!

  • If they weren't negligent, it wouldn't have happened. If I hit someone, accidentally, with my car and they die, I still get charged. If corporations want to have "people" rights when it comes to campaign finance, they can suffer the consequences when they fuck up like this, intentionally or not.
  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @11:23PM (#44826409)
    What are the chances that this is the only time they screwed up? I expect that this is standard operating procedure, and they only work legally when they know someone is going to show up.

    I wonder what would happen if the fine was large and applied to fund more random inspections. I think it would show they are routinely flaunting the law. If there was any effective law enforcement it might even show a criminal conspiracy. Fortunately no one has to worry about that, because the real outcome will be the result of political pressure to stop inspections.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      What are the chances that this is the only time they screwed up?

      Quite highly I imagine. People who think it's easy to control every tiny part of a process plant obviously haven't worked at a process plant.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @12:00AM (#44826623)

    attorney general’s statement showed. “Criminal charges are unwarranted and legally baseless,”

    Of course they won't prosecure.

    Professional courtesy.

    From one criminal [wikipedia.org] to another. The big banks [thehill.com] were also afforded this courtesy, of arbitrary refusal to prosecute by the US AG.

  • This could cost Exxon HUNDREDS of dollars!

  • Most criminals will deny their crimes. We just have to figure out if someone removed the plug intentionally or if it was an accident and the plug came out on its own. But if it came out on its own, they are still liable for buying cheap plugs.

  • and instead visited more sites. It is possible that this was an exception, however, this might also be standard practice. Now, it will not be known.
  • The fines will merely paid from the budget entry titled: The Cost Of Doing Business.

    Dollar-wise, it's right below the amount spent on office chairs.
  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @08:42AM (#44828783)

    Not maintaining your equipment is pretty much the definition of negligence.

  • Doesn't "Cleanup" just mean paying some mafia truckers to move the waste to another place such as, usually, a landfill?

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