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Pennsylvania DEP orders Range Resources to pay $4 million fine

Don Hopey | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Range Resources will pay penalties totaling $4.15 million to settle violations related to six Marcellus Shale gas drilling and fracking wastewater impoundments in Washington County that caused soil and groundwater contamination.

It’s the largest fine ever imposed against a Marcellus Shale gas drilling company, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The consent order will result in the closing of five of the football-field-sized impoundments and require Range Resources to upgrade its operations at two others to meet more stringent, but as yet to be adopted, state standards.

DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo said the consent order “reaffirms the administration’s unwavering commitment to protecting Pennsylvania’s soil and water resources,” and establishes higher standards for construction of new impoundments.

But state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, said the problems at the drilling reservoirs, each capable of holding 13 million to 15 million gallons of drilling and fracking wastewater, have been well known for a long time and DEP enforcement was long overdue.

“This action is about looking good, not doing good,” Mr. White said. “The DEP will try to spin this, but the $4 million is just the price of doing business for Range.”

Mr. White said the state should ban all new shale drilling wastewater impoundments because they are not considered an industry best practice and most drilling companies have stopped using them.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella did not return phone calls seeking comment but referred inquiries to a statement posted on the company’s website that said contamination was limited to “elevated levels of chlorides, or salt, at some older facilities,” and had no impact on an private water wells.

The DEP news release said the violations include releases of “flowback water” from wells where hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” occurred. The release also said there has been no impact on local private drinking water supplies, a claim that anti-drilling activists question and that is the subject of several on-going legal actions.

The consent order requires Range to immediately begin closing the Hopewell Township 11 impoundment known as the Lowry impoundment; the Cecil Township 23, known as Worstell; and the Kearns impoundment, also in Cecil.

Range will also continue its ongoing closure of the Yeager impoundment in Amwell Township, and must close the Bednarski impoundment in Hopewell Township by April, 2015. Only the Bednarski impoundment is currently holding any flowback water, according to the 22-page order.

The consent order said Range violated state permitting requirements by failing to submit building plans to the DEP for six of the impoundments, and failed to contain spills of recycled water and fracking fluids.

Related: Range Resources faces fine over Pennsylvania fracking wastewater leak

At the Kearns impoundment, Range was cited for failing to contain approximately 400 barrels of used fracking fluids, which were released into the ground and a nearby stream, Dunkle Run, in October 2011. The company also failed to obtain a required permit to operate a centralized impoundment, which stores fluids from several well drilling and fracking sites.

The order also requires Range to upgrade the liner systems and leak detection mechanisms at two impoundments: the Carol Baker in Chartiers Township and the John Day in Amwell Township.

The DEP is also requiring Range to “investigate and remediate any groundwater contamination caused by the previous operation of the impoundments.”

Additionally, Range’s Carter impoundment in Mount Pleasant Township will be limited to storing only fresh water, and its groundwater monitoring well network will be upgraded.

Range must also report to the state every three months on the progress of closing the impoundments.

Under terms of the consent order, Range must immediately begin soil and groundwater investigations at each of the closed impoundments to determine what environmental impact they had on soil and groundwater.

“If contamination is found, the company is required to remediate the sites,” the release said.

Range’s penalty is the largest assessed by the DEP against a shale gas drilling company. Previously, the DEP fined Chesapeake Energy $1 million in May 2011 for a February 2011 Washington County tank fire and for a spill of hundreds of thousands of gallons of fracking fluid that contaminated several drinking water wells in Bradford County.
Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

 

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