Settlement Reached in Clean Water Act Dispute Over 29 Million Gallon Spill Of Produced Water

On Thursday, pipeline company Summit Midstream Partners LLC agreed to a settlement where they will pay $35 million in criminal fines and civil penalties for the largest inland spill of produced water in US history, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The spill totalled 29 million gallons, a press release said, and led to violations of the Clean Water Act.

“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,” according to a factual admission signed by the company and filed in court. 

Summit started pipeline operations without meters at both ends of the pipeline to conduct “line balancing” or another 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,”

Summit also admitted that they failed to disclose pertinent information related to their operations and made “incomplete and misleading” statements to state and federal authorities. For example, they made a statement claiming that 70,000 barrels had been released in a 10 day span despite knowing that in a 143-day span, over 700,000 barrels had been discharged into the water. This “produced water” included crude oil, chloride, sodium, ammonia, aluminum, arsenic, boron, copper, nickel, selenium, zinc, barium, benzene and thallium, which can be extremely harmful to plants, fish, and other aquatic wildlife.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem made a statement on the matter, “North Dakota and its federal partners are holding Summit and Meadowlark accountable and making clear that disregard for North Dakota’s environmental laws will not be tolerated.”

After reaching the settlement, a complaint was filed concurrently with the settlement to ensure that Summit, who admitted their guilt in the matter, will pay 15 million in criminal fines as well as 20 million in civil penalties.