A Houston-based oil and gas drilling contractor, Integrated Production Services, has pleaded guilty to a negligent violation of the Clean Water Act and has agreed to pay penalties totaling $162,000 to federal and state agencies.

The case stemmed from the spilling of 400 to 700 gallons of hydrochloric acid — a chemical used in the controversial drilling practice of “fracking”  — into a creek in eastern Oklahoma in 2007.

In a news release, the U.S. Justice Department said a tank at the natural gas drilling site in Atoka County, Okla., leaked the acid at the well, which was flooded due to heavy rain. Authorities said Gabriel Henson, a company supervisor, first failed to clean up the spill and then drove a pickup truck through the well’s earthen berm, causing the acid to flow into the creek.

Henson previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act and is awaiting sentencing. He faces up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. His company, in addition to paying the $162,000 in penalties, will serve two years of probation and will be required to train its employees in hazardous waste handling and in spill response procedures.

Ignacia S. Moreno, a Justice Department assistant attorney general, said in a statement, “As hydraulic fracturing occurs with increasing frequency across the country, companies and individuals involved in those operations must adhere to the laws that protect human health and the environment and level the playing field for responsible businesses.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressures into underground rock to open up cracks and extract natural gas. Environmentalists and researchers have raised increasing concerns about the threat it poses to water supplies.

STUART SILVERSTEIN

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