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MUNCY -- Tuesday s preliminary hearing on the state related to the discharge of fluids from a Marcellus Shale natural gas well site in Lycoming County has been continued.

The parties were notified Monday that District Judge Jon E. Kemp had recused himself and the hearing would be rescheduled once Lycoming County President Judge Nancy L. Butts assigns another district judge.

Kemp explained he has an interest in a natural gas lease but it is not with XTO. When the charges were filed, he determined he did not have a conflict, but upon learning someone had notified the Attorney General s office about the gas lease, he said he scheduled a conference call Friday with all the parties.

Although the Attorney General s office did not ask that he recuse himself, Kemp said after the conference call he thought it best to step aside.

XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, is charged with five counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law and three counts of unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act.

The company is accused of illegally discharging more than 50,000 gallons of toxic waste water that got into a subsurface spring and a tributary of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

A state Department of Environmental Protection inspector on Nov. 16, 2010, discovered a valve open on one of 57 tanks and its contents flowing on the ground. That 21,000-gallon tank was connected to five others of the same capacity.

XTO calls the criminal charges an abuse of prosecutorial discretion. It contends there was no intentional, reckless or negligent misconduct (and) the incident in Penn Twp. outside Hughesville did not result in significant or lasting environmental harm.

It has settled a federal lawsuit brought the Environmental Protection Agency. XTO did not admit any liability or wrongdoing but agreed to pay a 0,000 civil penalty.

The settlement also requires XTO to implement preventive measures and adhere to the required recycling and disposal of fluids from hydraulic fracturing and well operations the government estimates will cost the company million.

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