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Skirting 'Halliburton Loophole,' EPA Slams Exxon with Fracking Fine

Gas subsidiary hit with $2.3 million fine for construction-related damage to West Virginia waterways

West Virginians protest fracking in their state. (Photo: engagejoe/cc/flickr)

Side-stepping a shifty exemption for fracking pollution known as the "Halliburton loophole," the Environmental Protection Agency is fining the world's largest natural gas company for dirtying West Virginia's waterways.

The EPA, the Justice Department, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) on Monday charged XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, $2.3 million for violating the Clean Water Act for fracking-related activities in West Virginia. The company will also have to pay an additional $3 million to restore eight sites damaged by the unauthorized discharge of fill material into streams and wetlands.

And while a $2.3 million fine is "a very small drop in a very large bucket" for XTO Energy, as Clean Technica reporter Tina Casey points out, this charge is noteworthy because the EPA managed to skirt a loophole that largely exempts oil and gas drilling by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, from the Safe Drinking Water Act or Clean Water Act.

"The EPA has been carefully pussyfooting around the fracking issue for years because its hands are tied by an enormous pollution loophole engineered during the Bush Administration by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who left his post as CEO of the drilling industry services company Halliburton to run for office in 2000," Casey writes.

To avoid that loophole, Casey explains, "Instead of making straight for the drilling operation itself, EPA went after XTO/ExxonMobil for ordinary construction-related damage."

The EPA statement charges, "the company impacted streams and discharged sand, dirt, rocks and other fill material into streams and wetlands without a federal permit in order to construct well pads, road crossings, freshwater pits, and other facilities related to natural gas extraction." 

According to the EPA, the fracking-related activities were in violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the filling or damming of wetlands, rivers, streams, and other waters of the United States without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This is the second time the EPA has levied roundabout charges against fracking polluters. Last year, Chesapeake Energy was fined $6.5 million on identical grounds. 

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