Based on a guilty plea, a court has sentenced a pipeline company to a $15 million fine and three years of probation. The case stems from a 2014 discharge of 29 million gallons of produced water, which the US DOJ’s news release characterized as the largest inland oil spill in US history.
According to the news release, the discharge occurred over more than four months. The company knew its pipeline had experienced a dramatic loss of pressure and negligently continued to operate, causing release of millions of additional gallons.
Pipeline Rupture and Leak of Produced Water
“Produced water” is a byproduct of oil and gas production. Water is generally present where oil and gas are found, and this water, when it reaches the surface, often is contaminated with oil, other pollutants, and salt. Operators must properly manage and dispose of “produced water.”
According to the Joint Factual Statement submitted by the government and the company as part of the plea process, the pipeline that ruptured was part of a produced water gathering system that collected produced water from 37 well pads for transport to a disposal facility. The rupture occurred on August 17, 2014 “and continued unabated for five months” before the company confirmed the leak.
The company was allegedly negligent “in the design, construction and operation” of the pipeline and negligent in failing “to find and stop the spill after learning of objective signs of the leak.”
The criminal fine is in addition to a $20 million civil penalty.
To see the news release, which contains a link to the Joint Factual Statement https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/pipeline-company-sentenced-largest-ever-inland-oil-spill