Texas oil company pleads guilty to dumping wastewater into Gulf

NEW ORLEANS -- A Texas oil company has pleaded guilty to knowingly dumping oily wastewater into the Gulf near Plaquemines Parish for more than two years, saving it $1.5 million in disposal costs in the process, according to federal court documents.

Xplor Energy SPV-1 Inc. agreed to pay a $3.1 million fine, admitting in a plea deal that it knew about faulty lines that leaked oil and brine into Breton Sound, and also knew that the wells it was using to dispose of oil-production waste products under the seabed were not actually big enough to hold all of the pollutants being injected into them.

Nevertheless, the plea deal states, Xplor sold its Main Pass 35 platform in November 2011 to another company without ever having a permit to dump the wastewater into the Gulf. The new owners discovered the faulty injection lines and insufficient well capacity and reported them to the federal government.

This was very close to shore, only about 5 miles north of Fort Jackson.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality investigated and found that Xplor had known about the unpermitted discharges since October 2009 but never addressed them. The government determined that the company saved $1.5 million by avoiding the costs of fixing the injection lines and digging additional disposal wells.

This is the second oil company in a month to agree to pay a fine related to willful pollution at oil and gas facilities near the Louisiana coast. In October, ATP Infrastructure Partners agreed to a $1 million civil penalty for a case in which hidden chemicals, labeled simply as "soap" on the rig, were allegedly being re-routed into the Gulf waters to make oil sheens disappear.

ATP-IP was the owner of the well and the facility, a floating platform called the ATP Innovator. The government is still pursuing criminal charges and a $55 million fine against ATP Oil & Gas, which operated the facility. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement inspectors allegedly caught them red-handed, discovering that chemical dispersants were being injected into the ATP Innovator's wastewater discharge pipe to mask the oil being dumped into the Gulf.

Two years ago, another operator near the Louisiana coast, W&T Offshore, pleaded guilty to using coffee filters to make it look like there was not oil in their overboard water discharge when sending test results to the government. After that, a whistleblower who worked at the W&T facility came to WWL-TV with additional evidence that W&T had covered up multiple oil spills.

U.S Attorney Kenneth Polite said federal and state agencies would continue to work together to uncover such polluters offshore.

"Our citizens simply demand that businesses not illegally pollute the waterways that sit at the center of our culture and economy," Polite said in a statement.


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