Exxon has long been viewed by many environmentalists as one of the most hostile companies on environmental protection. Indeed, many environmentalists continue to boycott the company’s gas stations. This is not simply because of the Exxon Valdez disaster but a long record of environmental violations. We can now add the illegal dumping of shale-gas drilling waste water in Pennsylvania. Exxon employees found a plug had been removed on a massive tank that allowed the wastewater to drain out and contaminate a nearby stream with chlorides, barium, strontium and aluminum. The company has warned the public that the charges against Exxon could produce an anti-environmental backlash from other companies.
Exxon unit XTO Energy Inc. is responsible for the violation at its Marquandt well site in Lycoming County in 2010. The state ordered XTO to remove 3,000 tons of soil to clean up the area.
Exxon is outraged by the charges of course. Its website did its best imitation of Captain Renault in Casablanca in declaring nothing but shock that Exxon would be charged with environmental violations: “Criminal charges are unwarranted and legally baseless. There was no intentional, reckless or negligent misconduct by XTO.” Wow, not even negligent conduct? Exxon releases tens of thousands of gallons of contaminants into the soil and water of Pennsylvania but insists that there was nothing even negligent about it. Moreover the curious removal of a plug was an act of God?
Here is my favorite part: “Charging XTO under these circumstances could discourage good environmental practices. This action tells oil and gas operators that setting up infrastructure to recycle produced water exposes them to the risk of significant legal and financial penalties should a small release occur.” This is why Exxon has the reputation that it does as a menace to the environment. It seems to hire officials and lawyers who have extreme views of corporate entitlement and an equally antagonistic view of environmental protection. Here the company is actually saying that, by charging it for a massive release into the environment, the public is risking an even greater hit from Exxon and other companies. The “small release” in this case was 50,000 gallons that contaminate a river that ran through communities in Pennsylvania. It is an argument that would only appeal to Exxon officials living on the orbiting world of Elysium.