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Pipeline company sentenced for largest-ever inland oil spill

WILLISTON – A pipeline company responsible for the discharge of 29 million gallons of oil-contaminated “produced water” — a waste product of hydraulic fracturing — was sentenced to pay a $15 million criminal fine and serve a three-year period of probation on Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Daniel M. Traynor in Williston. wwAccording to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, Summit Midstream Partners LLC pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it violated the Clean Water Act, as amended by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, by negligently causing the discharge into U.S. waters in 2014, and deliberately failing to immediately report the spill to federal authorities as required.

More than 700,000 barrels were discharged, contaminating Blacktail Creek and nearby land and groundwater. Blacktail Creek is a tributary to the Little Missouri River, north of Williston.

By law, the federal fines in this case will go to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund used to respond and clean up future oil spills.

“Summit is being criminally accountable for its crimes of negligently discharging more than 29 million gallons over more than four months and then knowingly failing to report the discharge,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“Investigations revealed that the spill occurred over 143 days and released more than 29 million gallons of contaminated waters into the environment, including tributaries of the Missouri River. This case sends a clear message that EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and our law enforcement partners will hold responsible companies that fail to take appropriate steps to detect and prevent spills,” said Acting Assistant administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of the Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

According to the factual admission agreed to by the company, “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.”

The criminal fine is in addition to a $20 million civil penalty imposed on Summer Midstream Partners LLC and a related Company, Meadowlark Midstream Company LLC, to resolve civil violations of the Clean Water Act and North Dakota water pollution control laws. On Sept. 28, the civil consent decree was approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota.

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