A North Dakota federal judge this week fined Summit Midstream $15 million over a discharge of 29 million gallons of produced water in 2014.
The action by U.S. District Court Judge Daniel M. Traynor in Williston, North Dakota also included a three-year period of probation for the midstream company. It came after Summit Midstream pleaded guilty to criminal charges of violating the Clean Water Act by negligently causing the discharge into U.S. waters in 2014 and deliberately failing to immediately report the spill to federal authorities as required.
More than 700,000 barrels were discharged thereby contaminating Blacktail Creek and nearby land and groundwater. By law, the federal fines in this case will go to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund used to respond and clean up future oil spills.
“Summit is being held criminally accountable for its crimes of negligently discharging more than 29 million gallons over more than 4 months and then knowingly failing to report the discharge,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Summit gave misleading and incomplete statements to the government about the duration and size of the spill. Through the civil and criminal cases, Summit is being held responsible for its misconduct and must implement more rigorous environmental management to prevent and detect future spills as a condition of probation.”
“Investigations revealed that the spill occurred over 143 days and released more than 29 million gallons of contaminated waters into the environment, including tributaries of the Missouri River. This case sends a clear message that EPA and our law enforcement partners will hold responsible companies that fail to take appropriate steps to detect and prevent spills,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of the Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
A detailed statement of facts has been filed in court and is publicly available here. According to the factual admission agreed to by the company, “Summit’s negligence included the design, construction and operation of the Marmon Water Gathering System pipeline, as well as the negligent failure to find and stop the spill after learning of objective signs of a leak.” Summit started pipeline operations without meters at both ends of the pipeline to conduct “line balancing” or otherwise having a reliable leak detection system in place. “Even after the company learned of major drops in pressure and volume – objective signs of a leak – the company negligently continued operations and thus caused millions of additional gallons to be discharged into U.S. waters without learning the cause or pausing operations,” according to the joint factual statement.
The criminal fine is in addition to a $20 million civil penalty imposed on Summit Midstream Partners LLC and a related company, Meadowlark Midstream Company LLC, to resolve civil violations of the Clean Water Act and North Dakota water pollution control laws. On Sept. 28, the civil consent decree was approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota.
Source: DOJ release