Kathleen Kane, Exxon Face Off Over Fracking

Energy company says Pa. prosecutor has unfairly targeted the industry.

AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

The Wall Street Journal reports that Exxon is pushing back hard against pollution charges — stemming from a 2010 spill — by saying that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has unfairly targeted the energy industry in the state.

Exxon Mobil Corp. is fighting criminal charges over a wastewater spill in Pennsylvania with an unusual defense, contending that the state’s attorney general improperly singled the company out in an effort to stop hydraulic fracturing. Attorney General Kathleen Kane fired back on Wednesday in a court filing that calls the company’s claims “nothing more than weak attempts to obfuscate the truth.” Prosecutors say Exxon subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. is criminally liable for a big leak of water that had been used in fracking in north-central Pennsylvania in 2010. The case involves the first criminal charges filed against a public company drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.

Natural Gas Intelligencer explains XTO’s case against Kane:

XTO says other companies have committed worse environmental offenses but haven’t been prosecuted. It accuses prosecutors of hyping the case on social media and intentionally destroying an investigator’s handwritten notes. And it cites a statement against fracking that Ms. Kane, a Democrat, made while campaigning for office in 2012. “The available evidence suggests that the commonwealth’s selection of XTO for corporate criminal prosecution may be part of an arbitrary and improper law-enforcement agenda,” the company’s lawyers wrote last month. The goal may be “to end hydro-fracturing in Pennsylvania altogether,” according to XTO’s motion.

The Inquirer explains the underlying charges:

The charges stem from a leak of about 50,000 gallons of wastewater from steel storage containers on a drilling site in Lycoming County’s rolling farmland. XTO said that the containers were managed by a contractor who was treating the waste for recycling and that investigators cannot determine who opened valves that allowed the fluid to drain onto the ground and into a nearby creek.

XTO has argued that it remediated the spill and agreed to a $100,000 settlement to resolve federal civil claims. XTO says more serious environmental violations have not drawn the same level of prosecution or publicity from Kane.