Six oil companies accused of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by killing ducks pleaded not guilty Thursday in a U.S. District Court in Bismark, N.D.
Continental, Petro-Hunt LLC, Brigham Oil and Gas LP, Newfield Exploration Co., ConocoPhillips, and Fidelity Exploration & Production Co. also contend that evidence was gathered illegally by the US Fish and Wildlife Services, which has been investigating the case against them.
An October 25 deadline for filing pretrial arguments was set by U.S. Magistrate Charles Miller Jr.
The six oil companies stand accused of illegally letting 16 ducks die in May, in waste pits created by crude oil production.
According to the indictment, misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Birds Treaty Act call for a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a $15,000 fine.
A seventh company named in the indictment, Slawson Exploration Co. Inc., accused of illegally allowing twelve birds to die between May and June, was not in court this week. Its arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 21.
According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, states can enact more stringent regulations than are required by federal statutes. In North Dakota, state law requires waste pits to be fenced off and covered three months after oil well drilling is finished, and the waste pit must be filled in to allow the land be reclaimed within a year of finishing the oil well drilling..
Thursday’s hearing came just a few days after DOJ’s top environmental lawyer, Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno, was in Medora, North Dakota to defend regulations at a gathering of oil company executives.
“It is not fair to law-abiding businesses who comply with the law to protect human health and safety when other businesses cut corners, gain an unfair advantage, and profit from noncompliance with the law,” she said, according to the AP.