By Amanda Gillooly
More than 500 tons of contaminated soil has already been trucked out of the John Day impoundment in Washington County and into at least one area landfill on an old permit, the state Department of Environmental Protection confirmed late last week.
Sources have said the incident is worse than previously reported in the media, and that thousands of tons of contaminated soil still need to be removed.
DEP spokesman John Poister on Tuesday (April 22) said Range Resources had “removed” 500 tons of soil from the impoundment and had been “stockpiling” it in a contained, secure area locatedat the Amwell Township site. He added the company was using vacuum trucks to ensure any dirt that escaped from the area would be immediately removed.
But Wednesday night, sources told Marcellus Monitor that Range had actually been trucking the soil to area landfills – and that they had seen as many as five tri-axle trucks hauling material out of the impoundment for days.
Reached Thursday (April 24) for clarification on where the soil was being stored or transported, Poister reversed the DEP’s previous statement, saying, “We know now” the company had, in fact, been transporting the soil off site.
He said the soil was trucked to the Arden landfill in Chartiers Township, Washington County.
Poister said it was legal for the Southpointe-based Marcellus Shale drilling company to use a previous permit – called a Form U – because it was issued earlier this year for the same site.
However, that permit only allowed the company to remove about 100 tons of soil a day.
Poister said Range Resources has applied for a new permit, which would allow them to haul out more soil from the John Day impoundment in Washington County.
While the DEP spokesman could provide no further details related to the pending Form U permit, a source has said it could allow Range Resources to haul out as many as 800 tons of soil each day.
A copy of the old Form U, which contains analysis of the contaminated soil previously permitted to be hauled from the pit to area landfills, was not immediately available. Marcellus Monitor is working to obtain a copy, as well as the soil analysis Range Resources would have had to have submitted in order to obtain the former permit.
Asked if by using the old permit, Range Resources was asserting that the soil effected by the most recent leak contains the same chemicals as the soil removed during the previous incident, Poister said, “I don’t know. I am waiting to get clarification on that.”
While no further information on the permit or the amount of soil needed to be removed from the site was available from DEP, a source told Marcellus Monitor that “thousands” more tons would need to be removed.
While the DEP and Range Resources director of corporate communications Matt Pitzarella has said the leak essentially consisted of “salt water,” the department is still awaiting the a soil analysis from the company, Poister said Thursday afternoon.
The DEP spokesman on Wednesday added that Range Resources had exhausted the amount of tons it was permitted to remove from the site, which necessitated the new permit.
Sources, though, said they observed trucks hauling material out of the impoundment throughout last week – including Thursday and as recently as this Monday morning.
Asked if Range was permitted to haul additional soil out of the impoundment given that DEP indicated the company had “exhausted” the former permit, Poister said, “I don’t know if they shipped” all of the stockpiled soil.
Poister also confirmed last week that Range Resources – which has two crews working at the John Day impoundment, one to remove soil and the other to place plastic tarps over the impoundment to prevent rainwater from pushing what they have said is salt water further into the ground – was having difficulty getting the plastic to stay put.
While he said the issue was under control as of last week, sources say the plastic could be seen blowing into the yards of neighboring farms – and that the plastic tarps remain an issue this week, as well.
It was still unclear when the DEP would issue a notice of violation to Range Resources, although Poister said Thursday it was still in the process of being drawn up.
Centralized impoundments are used to store millions of gallons of water used during the hydraulic fracturing process. Range Resources impoundments in Washington County have been the subject of both controversy and national headlines this past year – mostly over questions about what exactly is in the water stored at the sites.
State Impact reported that company executives testified in a civil court case that they do not know what chemicals they are using in the fracking process. Critics have long maintained that impoundments, sometimes called frack pits, are not an industry best practice, and have pushed for safer storage methods, such as closed-loop systems.
Pitzarella did not immediately return emails seeking further information.
Editor’s Note: Poister said Monday morning that there was no new information on the leak or cleanup efforts at the John Day impoundment in Amwell Township.