Summit Midstream Partners to pay $35M in penalties for largest inland spill of waste product from oil drilling

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lawsuit-settlement

Summit Midstream Partners LLC, a pipeline company in North Dakota, agreed to pay a total of $35 million in civil and criminal penalties for committing the largest inland spill of waste product from oil drilling.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said the settlement will resolve the criminal charges filed against Summit Midstream. The DOJ filed the case under the Clean Water Act.

The settlement will also resolve the civil charges filed by the U.S. government and the State of Dakota against the pipeline company and its subsidiary, Meadowlark Midstream Company.

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Charges against Summit Midstream

The U.S. government and the state of North Dakota alleged that Summit Midstream and its subsidiary violated the Clean Water Act and the state’s water pollution control laws. The defendants were responsible for discharging more than 700,000 barrels of produced water, a waste product from hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The spill contaminated land, groundwater, and more than 30 miles of tributaries of the Missouri River. It is the largest inland spill in the history of the United States.

The spilled produced water contained arsenic, ammonia, aluminum, barium, benzene, boron, chloride, crude oil, copper, nickel, thallium, selenium, and zinc. Produced water is harmful to humans and can be toxic to plants, fish, and other aquatic wildlife.

Details of the plea agreement and the civil settlement agreement

Under the plea agreement, Summit Midstream will pay $15 million in federal criminal penalties for negligently causing the continuous spill of produced water, failing to stop it, and deliberately failing to comply with the requirement to immediately report the incident.

Additionally, the pipeline company agreed to serve three years of probation, which requires comprehensive mitigating measures.

Summit Midstream pleaded guilty to intentionally not reporting all relevant information regarding the duration and volume of the produced water spill. The pipeline company admitted that the reports it submitted to federal and state authorities “were incomplete and misleading.

Under the proposed civil settlement, Summit Midstream, Meadowlark Midstream, and another subsidiary, Summit Operating Services Company will pay $20 million in penalties. The companies will also pay $1.25 million in natural resources damage.

In addition, the pipeline company and its subsidiaries will perform comprehensive injunctive relief and clean up the contamination caused by the spill.

To date, Summitt Midstream already spent over $50 million to clean up the spill under North Dakota’s supervision. The company’s ongoing remedial efforts  are expected to continue over the next several years

Furthermore, the civil settlement requires Summit Midstream and Meadowlark Midstream to implement concrete steps to prevent spills in the future.

The plea agreement and civil settlement are subject to court approval.

Holding Summit Midstream accountable for violating environmental laws

In a statement,  DOJ Division of Environment and Natural Resources Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, said, the pipeline company “prioritized profits over the environment.” Its disregard for pipeline safety resulted in pollution of the environment on a massive scale over 143 days.

Kim added that Summit Midstream committed criminal conduct. The settlement holds the pipeline company “financially accountable.”

On the other hand, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem made it clear that the state will not tolerate any disregard for its environmental laws. He added, The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, Game and Fish Department, and Industrial Commission staff spent countless hours investigating and responding to the spill, making this settlement possible.”

Meanwhile, Summit Midstream Chairman and CEO Heath Deneke said, “As a company, we have accepted responsibility for the produced water spill at the Blacktail Creek site from the beginning and have been working diligently over the past seven years on efforts to fully remediate the environmental impacts to the area, while also investing heavily in preventative system improvements…”

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