Brian Middleton

Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton speaks during an Oct. 7 news conference at the Fort Bend County Justice Center in Richmond. (Photo by Stefan Modrich)

A Connecticut-based drilling company has pleaded guilty to criminal charges for illegally releasing 450 barrels of oil into a Brazos River tributary and surrounding farmland in 2017, according to a Thursday news release from the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office.

Spike Drilling & Operating LLC pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized discharge of a pollutant, a Class A misdemeanor, and was fined $4,000 and forced to meet several other stipulations as part of a plea agreement, according to the DA’s office.

The charges stem from a tank battery the company operated in Damon, according to the office. A tank battery is a group of storage tanks connected via pipeline that are meant to receive crude oil from a nearby well.

The company in 2011 began developing an inactive oil and gas lease near Damon off Knolle Road – a lease in a floodplain draining into Cow Creek, which is a tributary of the Brazos River, according to the news release.

Spike in 2016 began operations on several wells and built a tank battery to store the production, according to the release. Environmental rules and industry standards required the company to build a berm around that tank battery to protect against possible unexpected oil spills, but the company did not do so.

Then, in June 2017, a tank ruptured and spilled 450 barrels of oil into the surrounding landscape, according to the district attorney’s office. A nearby landowner discovered the spill and contacted authorities.

Crews from multiple agencies, including Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Needville Fire Department responded and found chemicals, including benzene, saturating local pastures, according to the district attorney’s office.

Responders also found thunderstorms had carried the pollutants toward the creek and the Brazos River, according to the office.

During a four-week remediation, investigators found more than a mile-and-a-half of drainage pathways were polluted along with four miles of Cow Creek, according to the office. An estimated 2,080 barrels of oil and polluted water were recovered during remediation.

Spike plugged three wells, drained oil and water from the tank battery, agreed to remove the crippled tank battery from the lease, vacuumed flow lines, paid the contractors for the plugging and related work and paid restitution, according to the district attorney’s office.

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