Attorney General Kathleen Kane has turned aside criticism from the business community that her pursuit of criminal charges against XTO Energy Inc., a natural gas driller and subsidiary of ExxonMobil, is excessive and counterproductive.
"The attorney general takes protection of the environment very seriously," said Joe Peters, Kane's director of communications. "There is precedent for this. We have taken similar actions involving smaller spills."
Peters added that Kane is "pro-business".
"A clean environment is good for the business community overall," Peters said.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents drillers in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and other business groups blasted the attorney general for pursuing the action.
"The incident has been fully addressed at the state and federal levels, and the action is a clear overreach in every reasonable regard," said Marcellus Shale Coalition CEO Kathryn Klaber.
Chamber of Business and Industry President Gene Barr said he couldn't imagine where the action was coming from, particularly since it involved an independent contractor on site.
"Businesses don't want to come to a state where they will face criminal charges on top of penalties and fines for an unintentional violation by one of their contractors," Barr said.
Kane charged XTO with five counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law and three counts of unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act for illegally discharging more than 50,000 gallons of toxic waste water from a Marcellus Shale gas well site.
The incident occurred in November 2010 in Penn Township, Lycoming County.
XTO signed a consent decree in federal court in which it agreed to pay a $100,000 Environmental Protection Agency civil penalty.
In a statement released September 12, XTO said it plans to challenge Kane's charges.
"Criminal charges are unwarranted and legally baseless because neither XTO nor any of its employees intentionally, recklessly or negligently discharged produced water on the site," the statement said. "XTO has already agreed with federal authorities on reasonable civil penalties and preventative steps to avoid future accidents of this type. Without admission of liability, on July 18, 2013, a consent decree regarding the discharge was signed between XTO and the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Department of Justice conducted a full investigation for more than a year and concluded that criminal charges were not warranted."