DEP Assesses $8.9 million Civil Penalty Against Range Resources for Failure to Repair Leaking Gas Well

June 16, 2015 1:06 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa., June 16, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has notified Range Resources-Appalachia, LLC, of Fort Worth, TX that it intends to assess an $8.9 million civil penalty against the company, and has directed Range Resources to prevent methane and other substances from escaping from a leaking gas well and polluting groundwater and a stream in Lycoming County.

On May 11, 2015, DEP ordered Range Resources to submit a plan to remediate the defectively cemented gas well. However, the company failed to submit a satisfactory plan that made necessary repairs to prevent further leaks and pollution.

“Today, we made it clear that we take seriously our responsibility to protect residents and Pennsylvania’s natural resources,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “Clean water is an important part of a strong economy and Range Resources owes it to the people of Lycoming County and surrounding areas to make the repairs necessary to immediately stop the discharge of natural gas to the waters.”

The $8.9 million civil penalty would be assessed under the Clean Streams Law and the 2012 Oil and Gas Act.

Drilling for the well took place in February and March of 2011, and fracking occurred in June 2011. Subsequent investigation revealed that methane contaminated the groundwater-fed wells of private water supplies, and a nearby stream.

Although Range Resources was issued a Notice of Violation in September 2013 for the leaking gas well, it still has not corrected the defective cement. Since that time, the private wells, a pond, and nearby streams have continued to show signs of gas migration, including increased turbidity, and the presence of iron, aluminum and manganese. Elsewhere in the area near the leaking well, foliage “dead spots” and gas escaping from the soil have been observed by the DEP.

DEP’s May 11, 2015 order cited Range Resources for not correcting the defective well, and ordered the company to submit and implement a plan to prevent the migration of gas or other fluids. Calling the continued gas migration “unlawful conduct and a public nuisance,” DEP gave Range Resources ten days to submit a remediation plan.

Range Resources submitted a plan that proposed putting the well into production as a means to resolve the gas migration. DEP rejected that plan because it did not include making necessary repairs and has now directed the company to remediate the well in a manner that immediately ceases the discharge of methane to ground and surface water.

“Range Resources has the responsibility to eliminate the gas migration that this poorly constructed well is causing,” said Quigley. “Refusing to make the necessary repairs to protect the public and the environment is not an option.”

Range Resources has appealed the May 11 order to Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board.

MEDIA CONTACT: Julie Lalo, 717-787-1323

To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/dep-assesses-89-million-civil-penalty-against-range-resources-for-failure-to-repair-leaking-gas-well-300100011.html

DEP Fines Chevron $939K For Violations Related to Fatal Greene Co. Explosion

The Department of Environmental Protection has entered into a Consent Assessment of Civil Penalty  with Chevron Appalachia, LLC for violations related to a fatal explosion and fire at the company’s Lanco Well Site in Dunkard Township, Greene County.

The CACP requires the company to pay a $939,552 fine for violations at the well site. The penalty points to Chevron’s failure to construct and operate the well site to ensure that health, safety and environment were protected, as required by the state’s Oil and Gas Act.

The explosion and fire at the site occurred on February 11, 2014, as workers were preparing the Lanco 7H well for production. The force of the explosion damaged and ignited the Lanco 6H well, which was on the same well pad. One worker was killed and another injured.

The well fires continued to burn for four days. The wells continued to emit gas and production fluids until they were capped several days later.

DEP’s Bureau of Investigation conducted an investigation which determined that an ejected nut and pin assembly on Lanco 7H well allowed gas to escape into the air. Chevron has since inspected other wells with similar installations and has made operational changes and issued guidelines on how those changes are carried out.

To view the CACP, click here.

The Bureau of Investigation report can be viewed here.

The Department’s After Action Review can be viewed here.

For more information about DEP, click here, or visit www.dep.state.pa.us

(UPDATED) Fire at Range Resources Well in North Strabane Reportedly Caused by Mechanical Malfunction

Non one was injured Wednesday in a large fire at a well site in North Strabane Township, Washington County, operated by Range Resources – a blaze that company officials have said was likely caused by a mechanical malfunction.

“I just spoke with Dennis Degner, vice president of operations at Range Resources. I asked him about the status of the fire at a Range Resources’ well site in North Strabane tonight. He assured me that it was under control and that, according to the information he has received, it was a mechanical malfunction that caused the fire,” Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, said.

She also expressed her thanks to the first responders who successfully contained the fire, as well as to Range Resources officials – in advance.

“I thank Range Resources, in advance, for (its) thorough investigation into this incident,” Bartolotta said. “I look forward to receiving more information as investigation unfolds.”

A voice mail left for North Strabane Fire Department was not immediately returned. Working for more details and photos – but until then, here are the local media reports that have been published so far on the incident:

Here is the most thorough report, from the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington.

Here is the WPXI report.

Here is the WTAE report.

Here is the WJPA report.

Here is the Tribune-Review report.

Editor’s Note: Have info or photos? Email them to me at amandabgillooly@gmail.com.

Range Resources, DEP Reach $1.75 Million Settlement Over Water Withdrawl Records

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The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has entered into a $1.75 million dollar settlement agreement with Southpointe-based Range Resources for failure to keep proper water withdrawal records and for exceeding the amount of water withdrawn under an approved DEP Water Management Plan.

Under the state’s Oil and Gas Act, Range was required to have the approved Water Management Plan covering the company’s withdrawal of water from state waterways for use in natural gas drilling. DEP approved Range’s WMP in July 2009.

The company did not adhere to their plan. From July 2009 to February 2014, Range did not record daily maximum water withdrawal and instantaneous maximum withdrawal rates, as required.

Under their WMP, Range was also required to report water withdrawal rates electronically to the Department’s Water Use Database System. The information provided by the company was often different than or not supported by existing records.

The company has since changed its withdrawal, monitoring and reporting practices so that they meet the requirements of its WMP and the law. The company has also corrected the information previously submitted to WUDS.

According to the terms of the settlement, Range will pay a fine of $800,000 and will fund almost $950,000 toward the rehabilitation, expansion, and operation of the Hamilton Abandoned Mine Treatment System in Findlay Township, Allegheny County. The project will be implemented through a public-private partnership consisting of the Raccoon Creek Watershed Association, the Independence Conservancy, Penn’s Corner Conservancy Charitable Trust, Washington and Allegheny County Conservation Districts, two local landowners, and BioMost, Inc.

This passive mine water treatment system was originally constructed in 2003 as part of an effort to lessen the impact of mine drainage in the Raccoon Creek Watershed. It functioned successfully for a number of years until access to the system was restricted by a property owner. The system subsequently fell into disrepair and is now in need of renovation and expansion. The property now has a new owner and access to the system has been re-established. Range will pay $758,089 for the rehabilitation and expansion of the system and an additional $191,000 toward long-term operation and maintenance of the system.

“Protection of our natural resources is a key component of DEP’s mission.” John Ryder, DEP’s Director of Oil and Gas Operations said. “This innovative agreement does that directly by providing support for a local project that will improve our state’s waterways without the use of additional public funding.”

Range proposed the project as part of the settlement discussions with DEP and has pledged to sign an Implementation Agreement for the project that includes an outline of the scope of the project, a commitment by the conservation district to complete the project and a plan for submitting progress reports to DEP.

DEP approved the Hamilton AMD project in lieu of receiving additional penalties because the project will provide a substantial benefit to public health and the environment. The project also has strong local support.

Outside of this agreement, the project is not something that Range is otherwise legally required to do and Range may not deduct any costs incurred in connection with implementation of the project for any tax purposes.

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A.J. Williams Announces Candidacy for Washington County Commissioner

Editor’s Note: I report heavily on Marcellus Shale issues related to Washington County. Today, I received this press release from A.J. Williams, a Democrat I worked with while a reporter covering Canonsburg, where he previously served as a councilman.

Current county commissioners Larry Maggi and Harlan Shober on Tuesday announced they would run for re-election. Washington County’s lone Republican commissioner, Diana Irey Vaughan has not yet made a formal announcement regarding her political intentions.

I will be asking the candidates more about shale as the election nears. Until then, I got a brief comment from Mr. Williams regarding shale. He said, “Drill, but don’t abuse it.” -amanda

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Washington- Former Canonsburg Borough Councilman and North Strabane Resident, Allen “AJ” Williams has announced he will run for Washington County Commissioner.

Williams, 27, a Democrat, is a 2006 graduate of Canon McMillan High School and a proud alum of Washington & Jefferson College. He currently resides in Strabane, with his wife Savannah and their two sons, Kamden and Micah.

He is employed at South Hills Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Ram as a finance manager.

Williams previously served on Canonsburg Borough Council, becoming the youngest member to be elected to that position.

During his time on council, Williams played an integral part in the beautification and enhancement of Canonsburg Town Park and Pool. As a freshman member of council, Williams was selected by his peers to sit on the negotiating committee, which was successful in reaching a fair contract without any adverse effects to the budget or taxpayers’ pockets.

Williams said:

“I’ve never been one to sit back and complain, instead I prefer to take action and make a difference. I am very disheartened by the increasing number of violent crimes and drug related overdoses in Washington County. We need to become proactive to these issues, and work collaboratively through all levels of government to help out our communities and citizens. Our county government needs to be a helping hand to our municipalities. They need to show that they are concerned, that can’t be done in ballrooms and fancy functions!”

Williams said he believes parts of Washington County are highly sought destinations for businesses and families that are looking to relocate; however, officials cannot become complacent, but must focus on other parts of the county that are struggling. “The focus cannot be solely on commerce, we have to look at the quality of life and the daily struggles of people in our less fortunate communities!”

DEP Fines Shale Company $1 Million for Landslide, Problems at Greene County Pad

The state Department of Environmental Protection on Monday announced that it has fined Vantage Energy Appalachia LLC nearly $1 million for more than a dozen violation of environmental regulations stemming from a landslide and illegal disposal at its Porter Street well pad in Franklin Township, Greene County.

On Jan. 16, 2014, DEP learned that a landslide occurred at the well pad the previous day. DEP said inspectors immediately responded and noted that the slide impacted the side of the well pad and had dropped about 40 feet down slope to where it encroached upon two streams.

The slide continued to grow substantially and eventually covered the two streams.

DEP threatened to order a shutdown of all activity on the well pad. In response, the company on March 28 – more than two months later – agreed to voluntarily stop drilling operations and to make interim action to prevent further movement of the slide. DEP cited the company for numerous violations of the state’s Oil and Gas Act and Clean Streams Law.

On July 14, Elite Well Services, a Vantage contractor, dumped two truckloads (about 200 barrels) of drilling wastewater down the side of the well pad where the interim stabilization activities were occurring.

The wastewater impacted the landslide area being restored and ended up in the streams originally impacted by the slide. DEP again cited the company for further violations of various environmental statutes including the Oil and Gas Act.

On July 21, the company submitted a notice of its intent to remediate the soils, surface water and groundwater impacted by release of the wastewater. But, even as they began those efforts, DEP learned that Vantage had constructed a new access road along the streams impacted by the slide and the waste discharge. The construction was not authorized under the company’s erosion and sediment permit.  The company was cited again.

On December 16, Vantage and DEP signed the Consent Order and Agreement (COA) that establishes enforceable milestones for Vantage to correct the violations at the well site and requires the full restoration of impacted streams and wetlands, permanent stabilization of the well pad, and remediation of the soils, surface water and groundwater impacted by the illegal disposal of the wastewater.

“These violations resulted in significant damage to our natural resources and this action is in direct response to the seriousness of the violations,” John Ryder, Director of District Oil and Gas Operations for DEP said. “To its credit, Vantage has begun to make a genuine effort to better manage and operate their well sites. The company has hired an independent consultant to conduct an environmental audit of all of their well sites in Pennsylvania and the company is now fully cooperating with DEP.”

By signing the COA, the company also agreed to the $999,900 fine, one of the largest imposed on a driller by DEP this year. The COA also stipulates further penalties if project deadlines are not met. As part of the agreement, the company will also provide written “progress reports” detailing the actions taken during each period to comply with the requirements of the COA. The company must complete all the work on the site, meeting all DEP regulations, by Dec. 31, 2015.

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Attorney General Investigating Allegations that Republican Representative-Elect Jason Ortitay Committed Voter Fraud

Jason Ortitay

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday confirmed that it is investigating whether or not Republican Representative-Elect Jason Ortitay committed voter fraud.

Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone in a telephone call to Marcellus Monitor Wednesday said it was a “no brainer” decision for him to refer the case to the Attorney General’s office.

“I try to do the right thing,” Vittone said, adding that, because he was one of Ortitay’s campaign donors, it would be inappropriate for him to investigate the formal private criminal complaints filed against the Republican first-time political candidate.

Vittone, whose office has been in the spotlight for Rule 600 – or due process – violations, said he referred the case to the Attorney General last week. However, the attorney general’s office confirmed Wednesday morning that the case had just been referred to their office Tuesday.

An investigator, the AGs’ office said, had not yet been assigned.

Questions arose in October about a voter registration form Ortitay filled out in 2013, claiming he had moved into the 46th District on the last day on which he could and still be eligible to run for office. An investigative report published on Marcellus Monitor uncovered documents that cast doubt into whether Ortitay ever actually lived at a Burgettstown home he claimed as his residence on the form.

The report prompted at least one person to file a formal private criminal complaint asking Vittone’s office – which has original jurisdiction – to investigate whether “(Jason) Ortitay knowingly and intentionally changed his voter registration to an address he never lived at in order to run for the General Assembly.”

Vittone’s decision to punt the case to the Attorney General’s office came after Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn called on him to immediately recuse himself from the case.

Burn gave the following statement:

“The evidence suggests – in my opinion – that further investigation is warranted and should start immediately. The candidate needs to come clean or hire a lawyer. It is of extreme significance to us in the Democratic Party: (Vittone) must recuse himself immediately. In my opinion it creates the appearance of a conflict because he gave money to a candidate who is the subject of a private criminal complaint.”

Burn then added:

“It’s unfortunate that Republicans made so much noise in 2012 about voter fraud on the part of Democrats. When we raise similar concerns, we can’t seem to find a Republican who wants to do anything about it.”

The private criminal complaint filed last week, names both Ortitay and Pam Church, the woman with whom he said he lived when he filled out a voter registration form on Oct. 7, 2014 – the last day on which he could register and still meet the residential requirements to run for office in the 46th legislative District.

The complaint alleges that Ortitay violated Pennsylvania election law, specifically 25 Pa.C.S.A. § 1703(a)(3), which prohibits an individual from declaring a residence he knows is not his legal residence on a voter registration form.

Violation of this statute is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a fine of as much as $10,000, and/or five years in prison. It also calls for the loss of voting rights for a period of 10 years. State law indicates that a person convicted of voter fraud may not serve as a member of the state Legislature.

Documents obtained by Marcellus Monitor indicate that while Ortitay registered to vote in Burgettstown Oct. 7, 2013 – certifying under penalty of perjury that he would have lived there for a minimum of 30 days prior to that year’s election – he then, just a day later on Oct. 8, signed a lease for an apartment in South Fayette.

On Oct. 8, Ortitay also filled out a change-of-address form through the U.S. Postal Service asking that his mail be forwarded from his former Pittsburgh address to his South Fayette apartment, beginning on Oct. 11. The lease for his former Pittsburgh apartment did not expire until Oct. 31, 2013, according to that document.

To read Marcellus Monitor’s investigative report about Ortitay’s voter registration, click here.

Oritay did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment on the matter.

Oritay won the election Tuesday against incumbent Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil Township, in a Marcellus Shale-centric race.

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DA Reviewing Private Criminal Complaint Against Republican House Candidate for Alleged Voter Fraud; PA Dem Chair Calls for Recusal of DA/Campaign Donor

Jason Ortitay (left) and District Attorney Gene Vittone (right)

A formal private criminal complaint was filed this week against a Republican state House candidate asking the Washington County District attorney – who after being questioned Friday said he might have a conflict of interest in the case – to investigate whether “(Jason) Ortitay knowingly and intentionally changed his voter registration to an address he never lived at in order to run for the General Assembly.”

According to a campaign finance report filed this week by Ortitay’s campaign, the Committee to Re-Elect Gene Vittone donated $200 to the fellow Republican’s political campaign.

Asked Thursday about whether his office would investigate, Vittone first said the state Attorney General would have jurisdiction. When told the Attorney General’s office indicated that his office had jurisdiction, Vittone then suggested that the state House of Representatives would need to take up the issue if and when Ortitay got elected. He then said that his office would not be able to investigate unless a formal criminal complaint was filed.

“That’s the procedure,” he said Thursday.

Reached Friday after Marcellus Monitor obtained the formal criminal complaint, Vittone said it would be reviewed, and that he could not make a decision or comment extensively until he had read it.

Asked if his campaign committee donating money to Ortitay’s campaign would constitute as a conflict of interest, he said he would need to review what was being alleged before making that determination.

“If I believe there is a conflict, I will farm it out to the Attorney General’s office,” Vittone said.

Asked why he didn’t mention the potential conflict of interest when asked about the issue Thursday, he said, “You didn’t ask,” then added, “I forgot about it.”

Vittone, who said he was “permitted to donate to political campaigns like anyone else,” then added:

“There is nothing sinister going on.”

But reached Friday evening, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn called on Vittone to immediately recuse himself from the case.

Burn gave the following statement:

“The evidence suggests – in my opinion – that further investigation is warranted and should start immediately. The candidate needs to come clean or hire a lawyer. It is of extreme significance to us in the Democratic Party: (Vittone) must recuse himself immediately. In my opinion it creates the appearance of a conflict because he gave money to a candidate who is the subject of a private criminal complaint.”

Burn then added:

“It’s unfortunate that Republicans made so much noise in 2012 about voter fraud on the part of Democrats. When we raise similar concerns, we can’t seem to find a Republican who wants to do anything about it.”

The private criminal complaint filed Friday, names both Ortitay and Pam Church, the woman with whom he said he lived when he filled out a voter registration form on Oct. 7, 2014 – the last day on which he could register and still meet the residential requirements to run for office in the 46th legislative District.

The complaint alleges that Ortitay violated Pennsylvania election law, specifically 25 Pa.C.S.A. § 1703(a)(3), which prohibits an individual from declaring a residence he knows is not his legal residence on a voter registration form.

Violation of this statute is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a fine of as much as $10,000, and/or five years in prison. It also calls for the loss of voting rights for a period of 10 years.

Documents obtained by Marcellus Monitor indicate that while Ortitay registered to vote in Burgettstown Oct. 7, 2013 – certifying under penalty of perjury that he would have lived there for a minimum of 30 days prior to that year’s election – he then, just a day later on Oct. 8, signed a lease for an apartment in South Fayette.

On Oct. 8, Ortitay also filled out a change-of-address form through the U.S. Postal Service asking that his mail be forwarded from his former Pittsburgh address to his South Fayette apartment, beginning on Oct. 11. The lease for his former Pittsburgh apartment did not expire until Oct. 31, 2013, according to that document.

To read Marcellus Monitor’s investigative report about Ortitay’s voter registration, click here.

Oritay did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the matter.

Oritay is the Republican facing off against incumbent state Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil Township in the 46th District race – one in which Marcellus shale is a leading issue.

 

 

 

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Did A Republican Candidate in Shale-Centric PA House Race Commit Voter Fraud?

Editor’s Note: Faithful readers of Marcellus Monitor likely have noticed the vast majority of stories I’ve published over this past year have originated from southwestern Pennsylvania, or, more specifically, from Pennsylvania’s 46th Legislative District.

The sitting representative in the district, which encompasses portions of Washington and Allegheny counties, is state Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil Township. White has been called a “watchdog” on matters pertaining to Marcellus Shale. Because of his outspoken criticism of the Marcellus Shale industry and the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is tasked with regulating it, White has been painted as the “anti-shale” candidate by some.

His opponent, Republican Jason Ortitay (who owns Jason’s Cheesecake Company) is, by contrast, largely considered the “pro-shale” candidate (in fact, EQT’s political action committee is hosting an event to benefit the first-time state representative candidate this Thursday at the Cambria Suites in Washington.

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By way of background, DEP recently announced it is seeking a $4.5 million fine from the company for what the department called an impoundment leak. If assessed, it will be the largest such civil penalty in state history.

All that said, this story, while a bit different from the types of investigative reports I have published in the past, is pertinent, I believe, to all those who have been following this shale-centric race, and to all those who live  or work in the 46th District. -amanda

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(This house on Maple Avenue in Burgettstown – the home of Pam Church – is where Jason Ortitay, Republican candidate for the 46th District state House seat, said he lived when he registered to vote in Burgettstown, Washington County. Ortitay registered to vote there on the very last day he could move into the district and still, under Pennsylvania statute, be eligible to run for office during this year’s election. Photo by Faith Cotter. Taken on Oct. 13, 2014)

By Faith Cotter

Despite admitting in a recent interview that he was in between apartments at the time, Republican candidate for the 46th state House seat, Jason Ortitay, registered to vote in Burgettstown, Washington County – an address that, on paper, moved him into the district on the very last day he could and still be eligible to run for office there in this November’s general election.

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However, state election code dictates that, by registering, a prospective voter is stating – under penalty of perjury – that they will have lived at that residence for 30 days prior to the election in which they wish to vote. But according to documents, Ortitay signed a lease in South Fayette in Allegheny – which is also in the district – just a day after registering to vote in Burgettstown. And according to documents, Ortitay never even received mail at the Burgettstown addresss.

According to a change-of-address form filled out by Ortitay on Oct. 8, 2013 – just a day after he registered to vote in Burgettstown—he had his mail forwarded from his former Pittsburgh address to his new South Fayette Township address. The change of address was scheduled to take effect just days later on Oct. 11, 2013.

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Had Ortitay waited to register Oct. 8 at his South Fayette address, he may not have been eligible to run for office in the 46th District because he would not have lived in the district for the amount of time required by state statute.

When asked about when he moved in and out of Church’s Burgettstown home, and why he registered there when he signed a lease in South Fayette Township only a day later, Ortitay said:

“I changed my voter registration on the last day I could. Everything I did was completely legitimate. I asked if it was legitimate, and they said yes.”

But according to obtained documents, Ortitay, on paper, was still living in a Pittsburgh apartment until Oct. 31, 2013, when the lease expired. His former Pittsburgh address is not part of the 46th District.

He then signed the new lease for his South Fayette Township apartment (in which he currently resides) on Oct. 8, 2013, the day after he registered to vote in Burgettstown.

During an interview in a Panera parking lot on Oct. 13, 2014, Ortitay was unable to provide specific dates on which he moved in and out of the Burgettstown home – or why he registered there when he signed a lease elsewhere just a day later.

Although a car was in the driveway and a light was on in Church’s home the afternoon of Oct. 13, 2014, nobody answered the door to help clarify when Mr. Ortitay allegedly resided there.

While no one answered the door there after three attempts at knocking, a neighbor across the street answered hers. The neighbor, Carrie Ferris, has resided at her home for 16 years and said that she is “pretty familiar” with the neighborhood.

After being shown a photo of Ortitay, she said, “No, I’ve never seen him around.”

According to Pennsylvania election code, a person is committing voter fraud if they, “Declare as residence a place or address which the individual knows is not the individual’s legal residence.”

If an individual is found guilty of violating this section of Pennsylvania law, which is a first-degree misdemeanor, the penalty could include a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years. Additionally, individuals who are found guilty of violating the statute may lose their right to vote for a period of 10 years.

According to the Criminal Law Division of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, if there is evidence of an individual committing voter fraud, the case would be investigated by the district attorney’s office in the county the individual voted in, unless there is a conflict of interest. In that case, the state Attorney General would have jurisdiction to investigate.

A phone message left with the Washington County District Attorney’s office last week was not immediately returned.

Ortitay did not return two voice mail messages left on his cell phone seeking comment on this story. He hung up on a reporter without answering during a third attempt to make contact prior to publication.

Author’s Note: Faith Cotter is an award-winning writer and editor based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her background includes working as an investigative reporter for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University. She is currently working toward a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Chatham University. She can be reached by email at faithc3865@gmail.com, or via her website: http://faithc3865.wix.com/faithcotter

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DEP Seeks $4.5 Million Penalty from EQT Production Company for Major Pollution Incident in Tioga County

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Editor’s Note: The following news release was posted today to the website of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.

WILLIAMSPORT — The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced that it has filed a complaint with the state Environmental Hearing Board requesting a $4.5 million civil penalty from EQT Production Company of Washington, Pa., for a major pollution incident in 2012 at the company’s Phoenix Pad S location in Duncan Township, Tioga County.

“EQT fails to recognize the ongoing environmental harm from the significant amount of waste released by its leaking six million gallon impoundment,” Acting DEP Secretary Dana Aunkst said. “This action was necessary because the company has not been cooperative during our investigation. The department does not tolerate this unacceptable attitude toward compliance and proper protection of Pennsylvania’s environment.”

When EQT originally proposed the impoundment in its earth disturbance permit, the company stated it would be used to store fresh water only. However, after construction was complete in late 2011, the company decided to use the impoundment to store flowback water from Marcellus drilling operations to be used for fracking.

This unauthorized progression compromised environmental protection, as no monitoring wells or leak detection were required to be installed around the impoundment based on its initial stated intended use as a fresh water impoundment.

EQT ultimately proposed to construct a centralized waste impoundment adjacent to the Pad S impoundment and installed monitoring wells to establish baseline water quality in the area. A sampling event conducted on April 30, 2012 revealed elevated levels of chlorides and other parameters in two of the monitoring wells in the vicinity of the existing Pad S impoundment.

During the follow-up investigation of a reported flowback release from a transfer line on May 9, 2012, DEP staff identified two high conductivity seeps near the Pad S impoundment that were unrelated to the reported release. EQT continued to add fluid to the impoundment.

On May 30, 2012, after detecting high conductivity in a third monitoring well for the first time and in a nearby spring, EQT reported to the department that the impoundment was leaking. Impacts were ultimately documented in Rock Run, a high quality stream, an unnamed tributary to Rock Run, and various groundwater seeps and springs. Trees and shrubs along the discharge flow path also were severely impacted.

EQT demonstrated a lack of cooperation by adding more flowback water to the impoundment even after becoming aware of the elevated chlorides in the nearby monitoring wells. A DEP inspection done in June 2012 after the impoundment was emptied verified 75 to 100 holes in the liner as estimated by EQT. EQT later revised this estimate to be over 200 holes.

An aerial inspection of the impoundment area conducted by DEP in August 2012 documented significant areas of stressed vegetation around the well pad in all directions.

EQT eventually removed the liner and excavated contaminated soil but did not conclude this work until July 1, 2013. The exact amount of flowback that leaked from the impoundment is unknown, but the department believes it was significant.

Monitoring of surface waters and the impacted spring by EQT’s consultant has shown contamination is present at high enough levels that this water is still being collected and transported off-site for proper treatment and disposal. Groundwater also continues to show contamination present above standards. This monitoring is being overseen by DEP’s Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields Program.

The department incurred over $112,296 in costs and expenses as a result of its investigation, which is included as part of the proposed penalty.

To view the complaint, visit http://files.dep.state.pa.us/Newsroom/NewsroomPortalFiles/EQT%20Complaint.pdf.  To view the associated exhibits filed with the Board, visit http://files.dep.state.pa.us/Newsroom/NewsroomPortalFiles/EQT_Exhibits%20(3).pptx

For more information, visit www.dep.state.pa.us or call 570-327-3636.

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