Fluid pump & temporary pipelines
Editor’s Note: On Dec. 19, the Observer-Reporter newspaper published a story regarding an order by Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca that granted a motion to compel discovery of all photos associated with a December 2010 flowback water spill by Red Oak Water Hauling, now doing business as Rockwater Energy Solutions.
As part of that motion, attorneys from the Smith-Butz Lawfirm included documents garnered through the discovery process – including internal emails and personnel records detailing an unreported spill of more than 21,000 gallons of flowback water, as well as a “cover up” perpetrated by one of its employees (who received a three-day suspension related to the incident, according to those records).
While the court proceeding earlier this month resulted in a one-page order compelling Red Oak to disclose all photos of the spill, the pleading also included supporting documents that are shocking.
Red Oak has denied the existence of the spill, despite their own internal documents saying that it happened.
Here’s what I found out in those documents. -amanda
In the days leading up to an unreported spill of more than 21,000 gallons of flowback water in Washington County, Pennsylvania, by Red Oak Water Transfer, executives from Range Resources expressed frustration with the company – one of its subcontractors – calling Red Oak employees “lying bastards” in a chain of emails detailing issues including three additional leaks of a water supply line flowing from an Amwell Township frac pond, public documents show.
The emails are part of a 31-page supplemental exhibit filed Dec. 19 to compel a response from Red Oak as part of a civil lawsuit that originated in 2012 after three Washington County families living near the frack pond sued Range and more than a dozen of its subcontractors, alleging that toxic exposure from the impoundment caused those residents to suffer various illnesses. It also alleges that those companies were responsible for contamination of their drinking water.
While the original motion to compel Red Oak, now doing business as Rockwater Energy Solutions, to provide photographs of the spill included internal emails and personnel files from Red Oak detailing both the spill its “cover up” by an employee later suspended for three days without pay for the “serious incident,” exhibits included in the most recent filing reveal a tense relationship between the company and Range around the time of the unreported spill, which was never reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection, despite clear reporting requirements set forth in Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law.
Under Pennsylvania law, Range Resources as the permit holder is liable for the conduct of its subcontractors – whether it is aware of violations or not.
In an email chain that begins on Dec. 5 – just five days before the spill – Range Resources employee Dustin Bradick writes:
We are still trying to get water to the Yeager…This has been a mess out here today, the line was supposed to be ready so we could kick on pumps and pressure test nice and smooth…Instead this morning we were waiting on connecting pieces that were broke to drain the line I haven’t seen (Red Oak’s) Josh Kelly … all day and I’m getting rather irritated with this, right now they think its froze some where around Van Kirk Ridge Road due to not draining the line when this has already been stressed.
Another Range employee, Peter Miller, then asked if the issue had reached the point where he needed to step in and make a phone call to Red Oak.
Bradick emailed him back later that same day, writing:
We’re at that point Pete they haven’t communicated with me at all, every time I need an update on what’s going on I have to chase down a supervisor.
A few hours after that email, Bradick emailed Miller again to express his frustration with Red Oak, this time accusing them of being dishonest.
Why are they trying to lie to us when I’ve been sitting here all day seeing what’s going on. I’ll give (Red Oak’s) Matt Smiley a call.
The supplemental exhibits also include an email sent to Red Oak executives from the company’s Director of Safety and Compliance Richard Hoffman on the morning of Dec. 8 – just two days before the unreported spill of more than 21,000 gallons of flowback water.
Sierzega well pad & Baker compressor station
The email reveals that Range officials discovered three additional leaks of the line between the Yeager impoundment and a nearby drill site.
I just got off the phone with Pete Miller of Range Resources, and it was not a pleasant experience. Mr. Miller brought it to my attention that Range employees discovered three leaks in the line between the Yeager and Serezega pits.
Although two of them were small, he feels these events are an indication of greater problems. These are his basic concerns:
- Range employees noticed the leaks not (Red Oak Water Transfer) employees.
- There was no evidence that ROWT employees were walking the lines to check for leaks.
Fracking With the Bodies of Red Oak Employees?
Also included as an exhibit was an email between Range’s Miller and Red Oak employees dated Dec. 10, 2010 – the date of the unreported spill.
I realize there have been icing issues but we are rapidly getting to the level at the Yeager site where we need to add water. Please advise ASAP.
To that, another Range employee emailed Miller directly with a question:
What is our plan B if we can’t get this damn line running?
To that, Miller responded:
Plan B? Start frac’ing with the bodies of Red Oak employees?
Red Oak Executive: A Tale of Two Stories?
Documents included in the Dec. 19 filing also show that Red Oak executive Matt Smiley has, under oath, given several different versions of a story regarding the unreported December 2010 spill and the disciplinary action the company took against the supervisor who was responsible for its “coverup.”
Court documents filed Dec. 6 show that Smiley denied the existence of photographs of the spill that were referenced in internal Red Oak emails, and that he testified he had never seen them.
“Nobody has pictures of anything,” Smiley said, according to court documents.
Smiley also suggested in the deposition that the employee who reported the spill to management may have fabricated details in an effort to get the supervisor, Blackburn, terminated.
But, when asked under oath in a recent deposition about Blackburn’s work history at Red Oak, Smiley couldn’t remember much other than that the man had an attitude problem.
The plaintiff’s attorney then asked him, “Anything else?”
But before Smiley could answer, his attorney chimed in, telling him, “To the extent that you remember…”
Smiley then answered, “Not that I remember.”
But in a trial in Pittsburgh on Dec. 14, 2011, Smiley was able to recall much more about Blackburn and his suspension.
Smiley testified in a lawsuit between Red Oak and two of its employees including Blackburn, as well as those employees’ new employer, Countrywide.
Red Oak sued Blackburn, a second former Red Oak employee and Countrywide, claiming that Blackburn’s employment was in violation of a non-compete clause.
“One of the issues with him was his failure to report a spill of blended water in early 2011?” an attorney asked Smiley.
Smiley, who stated under oath in that trial that water hauling in Washington County, for him, was a “case of trial an error,” answered, “Correct.”
The attorney then asked him, “And you were present when he was spoken to about that?”
“I was present,” he said.
Red Oak’s response to the motion to compel the photos was that they do not exist, and suggested that the request was sensational on the part of the plaintiff’s attorneys.
But Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca sided with the plaintiffs in the case – ordering Red Oak to produce “all photos” of the December 2010 spill before its Director of Safety and Compliance Richard Hoffman is deposed.
It was not immediately known when that deposition would take place.
Details of the unreported spill prompted state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil,earlier this month to call for an investigation into the incident. The case must be referred by either the Washington County District Attorney’s Office or the state Department of Environmental Protection before the state Attorney General’s office can legally conduct such an investigation.
Note: A special thank you to Robert M. Donnan for the use of his photos. To view more of his photos, click here.
Also: Want to read the exhibits yourself? Here they are: