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SALT LAKE CITY -- Exxon Mobil Corp. will pay more than $5.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the government on behalf of The Navajo Nation over oil and contaminated water spills that leaked into San Juan River tributaries in southeastern Utah, reported the Associated Press.
"No question, it's a good settlement," said Dave Basinger, a senior engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco. "We would have liked to have seen it quicker, but we are pleased."
Settlement terms announced Tuesday between ExxonMobil and the EPA and the Justice Department included a $515,000 penalty. They also require the company, formerly known as Mobil Exploration & Producing U.S. Inc., to spend about $4.7 million on field operation improvements to reduce spills.
"They've agreed to spend $327,000 on a supplemental project, which we feel is important and worthwhile," Basinger said.
ExxonMobil will spend that money on environmental projects, including sanitation facilities and construction of a drinking water supply line extension to provide running water to 17 remote American Indian residences located on the oil production fields.
"They have very little. Some of them have no sanitation facilities. Some have inconsistent or unsatisfactory drinking water," Basinger said. "Now, they'll have that." Since this project was not required, Basinger said the government recognized the gesture by the oil company by reducing the penalty somewhat.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Sansonetti said he hopes the settlement shows other companies that the government "means business when it comes to violations of the Clean Water Act."
He added, "people are welcome to lease public lands, but they have to make sure they do so by not providing unauthorized discharges of oil and water mixtures into our tributaries."
Navajos in southeastern Utah had complained for years that the river was being polluted, and asked the government in 1996 to investigate. Justice officials later filed a civil complaint over an alleged 83 spills that reached the river's tributaries, a violation of the Clean Water Act.