Probation and $3m fine for firm that polluted the Gulf for two years

An oil company that saved $1.55 million by allowing contaminated water to flow into the Gulf of Mexico from its platform’s leaky pipes and overflowing discharge wells has just been sentenced.

US District Judge Sarah S. Vance sentenced XPLOR Energy SPV-1, Inc. – an Oklahoma corporation based in Southlake, Texas – to serve three years of probation and to pay a $3.1 million penalty.

XPLOR had pleaded guilty in November 2014 to one felony count of knowingly discharging ‘produced water’ in the Breton Sound Area of the Gulf of Mexico, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

According to US Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Louisiana, XPLOR operated the MP 35 platform to produce oil and natural gas from November 1997 until November 2011, at which point it transferred ownership and operation of the platform to another corporation.

Leaks discovered

As part of production, separation and processing, XPLOR was tasked with disposing of the pollutant known as produced water or “brine” which is produced with the extracted oil and natural gas.

The MP 35 platform was designed to dispose of this pollutant by pumping it into disposal/injection wells near the platform.

But the new owner discovered immediately that the platform was discharging produced water containing oil and other harmful substances into the Gulf, and contacted regulatory authorities.

The ensuing investigation revealed that XPLOR had knowingly discharged the produced water from faulty injection lines/pipes leading from the platform to the disposal wells, and from the wells themselves, which had insufficient capacity to hold the produced water.

Substantial savings

According to the US Attorney’s Office, by neglecting its duty to rectify the problem, XPLOR caused produced water to enter the Gulf for two years, between October 2009 and November 2011, and realized a cost saving of approximately $1.55 million.

“Our Office will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to pursue charges against individuals and corporations whose illegal conduct threatens our region’s natural resources and public health,” stated US Attorney Kenneth A. Polite, after the sentence was handed down on March 4.

“Developing domestic sources of energy must be done responsibly and safely,” said Daniel J. Pflaster, Acting Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Louisiana.

“EPA will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold companies accountable for illegal conduct, and to assure compliance with laws that protect the public and the delicate Gulf Coast ecosystem from harm.”

“The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will not tolerate any business, corporation or individual that bypasses state and federal laws for personal, professional or monetary gain,” stated Peggy Hatch, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

“We take unpermitted discharges very seriously and will continue to aggressively prosecute those found to be in violation of environmental regulations.”

XPLOR’s penalty includes payments of $2.5 million to the United States Treasury, and $600,000 to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Trust Fund.