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Exxon Mobil subsidiary charged for wastewater spill in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane [official website] filed criminal charges on Tuesday against XTO Energy, an Exxon Mobil [corporate websites] subsidiary based in Fort Worth, Texas, related to a spill of more than 50,000 gallons of chemical-laced wastewater in 2010. Having already been fined $100,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] and the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] in July, XTO claims that the polluting of a Susquehanna River tributary [Reuters report], located near the company's water recycling plant in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, was an accident. On Tuesday, XTO was charged under the state's Clean Streams Law [text, PDF] and Solid Waste Management Act [text, PDF], both of which carry prison sentences as possible punishment. According to XTO [press release], "The criminal charges filed by the Attorney General are unprecedented and an abuse of prosecutorial discretion." XTO admitted no wrongdoing [WSJ report] as part of the settlement with the EPA and DOJ.

The Exxon Mobil Corp. has previously faced allegations of improper conduct. In 2011 the US District Court for the District of Alaska refused to reopen [JURIST report] the $900 million settlement agreement that was reached in 1991 following the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of 1989. Following similar attempts to reopen the settlement [JURIST report] by the US and Alaskan government in 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in June 2008 to reduce a punitive damages award [JURIST report] to be paid by Exxon from $2.5 billion to $500 million. The Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound and contaminated about 1,300 miles of coastline.

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