Monthly Archives: May 2014

MarkWest Issues Statement on Fire at Washington County Processing Plant, Evacuation

MarkWest Energy Partners has issued an emailed statement through spokesman Robert McHale – who is on scene –  regarding the fire at the Chartiers Township/Houston, Washington County, Marcellus Shale gas processing plant.

“At approximately 6:00 p.m., during severe weather conditions, MarkWest¹s Houston facility was struck by lightning. All employees and contractors are accounted for and there are no reported injuries. The facility will remain shut down until a thorough inspection is completed.

MarkWest has highly trained personnel on-site working with first responders and will continue to monitor the situation.

First responders have secured a perimeter and out of an abundance of caution, several residents have relocated to a local community center.

MarkWest has an employee at this location and will  work with these residents to ensure that accommodations are made until they can return to their homes.

We thank the first responders for their professionalism and will provide updates as more information becomes available.”

Editor’s Note: The Observer-Reporter and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette both reported that those evacuated were told they could return to their homes just before 10 p.m. Wednesday. To read the OR’s report, click here. To read the PG’s report, click here.

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UPDATED: Families Evacuated Following Fire at Washington County MarkWest Facility

Lightening struck a release valve at the MarkWest Marcellus Shale gas processing plant in Chartiers Township, Washington County on Wednesday, starting a fire and prompting officials to evacuate about 50 people living near the facility.

Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi said hazmat teams were on scene to determine if the gas that escaped the valve and formed a plume of smoke above the compressor station was hazardous.

“They were almost certain that it is not,” he said.

Washington County Public Safety Director Jeffrey Yates said just after 7 p.m. that the valves had been shut off.

Western Avenue remains closed, and Maggi suggested drivers avoid the area as a precaution.

Cell phone messages left for MarkWest spokesman Robert McHale were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Washington County 911 said they had no information on the incident.

Editor’s Note: The following update was posted on the Facebook page of state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil:

“UPDATE (7:36 PM): Apparently the evacuation has been upgraded to Stage 2, extended to the steel plant (old Allegheny Ludlum plant).

UPDATE (7:47 PM): According to a resident living nearby, there are still flames and smoke at the plant (not where they usually flare). Per another resident on the scene, the Red Cross is being dispatched to the Chartiers Twp. Fire Dept, which is running on a generator because the power is out. And according to the scanner, Markwest alarms are going off at 519 and Medding Road.”

A first responder sent me this info via Facebook around 8 p.m.:

“The evacuated people are being taken to Mount Pleasant Fire Station 41. Fort Cherry Ambulance and Greens Taxi sent two passenger busses down to shuttle people from the Votech on Western Avenue to the fire station.”

Crews Hauling Remaining 1,000 Tons of Contaminated Soil Out of Range Resources Impoundment in Washington County This Week


(This photo of the John Day impoundment in Amwell Township as of earlier this month. Photo Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan.)

An environmental reclamation company is working this week to haul out the remaining 1,000 tons of contaminated soil from a Washington County impoundment operated by Southpointe-based Marcellus Shale drilling company Range Resources, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said Tuesday.

The spokesman, John Poister, said the company, Weavertown Environmental, had been waiting to receive the proper documentation called a Form U in order to transport the remaining soil effected by what DEP has described as a “significant leak” at the Amwell Township impoundment.

Poister said more than 2,000 tons of soil will have been removed from the impoundment and into area landfills when the cleanup at the site is complete.

While DEP last month issued a notice of violation to Range Resources for the leak, no civil penalty has yet been assessed. Poister said that remains a possibility, and indicated that an investigation is ongoing into how the pit’s leak detection system “failed miserably” – and how the leak, reported April 16, had gone unnoticed by Range Resources officials.

The results of a soil analysis were not immediately available, but Poister said initial tests indicate that salt is the primary contaminant.

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.

Editor’s Note: I wanted to thank Robert M. Donnan for kindly allowing me to publish his photo of the John Day impoundment – it is greatly appreciated!


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PA DEP’s Oil and Gas Manager Takes on New Role in Department’s Safe Drinking Water Program

for eichler post

The Department of Environmental Protection’s longtime head of oil and gas operations today takes on a new role.

DEP spokesman John Poister on Tuesday said Alan Eichler is now the manager of the department’s southwestern Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water program after serving 28 years in the oil and gas division.

Poister said the move would likely give Eichler a “little change of pace.”

Nobody has yet been tapped to replace Eichler’s position in the oil and gas division, Poister said.

Some background on Eichler: Despite major public outcry for more information on public safety and other issues regarding a Cecil frac pond last year, Eichler  headed a meeting with township supervisors behind closed doors, and even snarked about the move in internal correspondence.

In an email dated July 18, 2013, Eichler wrote to DEP staff about the meeting called to address safety concerns at the pit. DEP officials claimed the meeting did not need to be made public because it was a “conference.” The state’s Sunshine Law governing open meetings indicates that conferences may be closed to the public:

We should be thinking about potential questions that are going to be asked at the August 9 meeting…uh, I mean conference (it’s not a meeting).


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PA Rep. White Wins Primary, Says Rumors of Political Death ‘Greatly Exaggerated’

PA state Rep. Jesse White D, Cecil, recently introduced the legislation.

PA state Rep. Jesse White D, Cecil, won the Democratic primary Tuesday.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jesse White won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, and will face off against his Republican challenger, political newcomer Jason Ortitay, in the November general election.

Upon finding out that a local newspaper, the Observer-Reporter had called his race, White announced his victory over Democratic challenger Tom Casciola to supporters, who gave him a rowdy round of applause.

A short time later, White wrote the following on Facebook:

“With nearly all precincts reporting, I have won the Democratic Nomination for the 46th Legislative District with approximately 57% of the vote. To my supporters, thank you for your tireless work and dedication. To my detractors, I look forward to working harder than ever to earn your support as we move forward with the singular goal of defeating Tom Corbett and bringing some common sense back to Pennsylvania government.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of my political death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Casciola did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone Tuesday night seeking comment.


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Range Resources “Equipment Failure” Leads to Gas Leak, Precautionary Evacuation in Washington County

for range post

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is investigating an “equipment failure” at a Range Resources well pad in Washington County that caused a gas leak and spurred a precautionary evacuation of about 35 residents Wednesday morning.

DEP spokesman John Poister said Range Resources reported the “equipment failure” at the Herman Pad in Mt. Pleasant to Washington County 911 at 7:14 a.m. Wednesday. The local volunteer fire department and Range Resources personnel responded.

The incident was reportedly under control by 7:54 a.m. No injuries were reported.

Poister said the failure led to a release of methane into the air, and indicated that while such a release is a violation, it is too early to tell if a formal notice of violation would be issued to Range Resources.

“We do not believe there was a tremendous amount of methane released,” he said. However, DEP is taking air quality samples “just to be sure.”

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella did not immediately return an email seeking further information.

Editor’s Note: Photo was submitted by a resident who lives near the Herman Pad in Mt. Pleasant.

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UPDATE: 1,100 Tons of Contaminated Soil Removed Last Week From Range Resources Impoundment in Washington County

By Amanda Gillooly

(PHOTO CREDIT: ROBERT DONNAN) Stock Photo of the John Day Impoundment

Stock Photo of the John Day Impoundment

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesman on Tuesday said about 1,100 tons of dirt was trucked out of a Range Resources’ centralized impoundment last week in Amwell Township, Washington County – the site of a “significant leak” in April that led to the agency issuing a Notice of Violation to the Southpointe-based Marcellus Shale drilling company.
DEP spokesman John Poister said it is likely that 2,100 tons of contaminated soil will ultimately need to be removed from the site.

“It’s a mountain of soil,” he said.

He confirmed that the leak is “serious enough” that a DEP inspector has been on scene at the John Day impoundment nearly every day.

“This is something we are taking very seriously,” he said, adding that DEP is committed to getting to the bottom of why the impoundment’s leak detection system didn’t work.

“This is a case where it failed miserably,” Poister said of the leak detection system. “Our concern is how long did this leak go unnoticed? We’re upset about this – the extent of the leak and why it wasn’t spotted earlier.”

He added it was “obvious to our people that this is not a small thing.”

Right now crews at the John Day impoundment are working to ensure tarps are secured to keep rain water out, and he said Range Resources was dealing with runoff issues Tuesday.

Poister said the first step in the remediation process is the removal and replacement of contaminated soil.

No timeline was available for the completion of that step, however. Poister said rain has slowed progress of work at the site.

A soil analysis was not yet available on Tuesday, but Poister confirmed that initial water quality tests indicated that chloride – or salt –  is the primary contaminant.

“Salt is very damaging,” Poister explained.

The soil is being transported out of the site using an existing Form U. The company responsible for the cleanup efforts, Weavertown Environmental, is currently in the process of obtaining a new Form U, he said.

DEP issued a notice of violation to Range Resources, and Poister said a civil penalty is possible, too. That, though, is be the final step in the process.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella did not immediately return an email seeking further information for this story.

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Container Marked “Radioactive” at Range Resources Impoundment in Washington Co. Spurs Calls To DEP, Inspector Investigating


By Amanda Gillooly

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday confirmed that an inspector had been called to a centralized impoundment in Washington County operated by Range Resources after residents complained about unusual activity there.

DEP spokesman John Poister said there was “material that raised some concern” at the Carter impoundment in Mt. Pleasant Township, and that the department was awaiting the results of soil characterization tests that Range Resources is conducting.

He said there was an issue with the weir system at the impoundment, which he said is used to filter solids out of water used in the fracking process.

Residents who live near the impoundment became concerned when they saw blue containers at the impoundment with stamps reading DOT SP 11406. An Internet search shows that these containers are used to transport radioactive waste.

Asked if those containers were actively being used by Range Resources to remove and transport radioactive waste, Poister said he did not know, but that the company would be required to have a permit known as a Form U in order to do so.

“I have not seen a Form U,” he said.

Poister said it was “premature” to draw conclusions until the soil characterization tests were completed. He said the results would likely be available Friday afternoon.

He also confirmed that DEP’s “radiation people are not involved,” adding that the department’s oil and gas folks were handling the issue.

“We have to wait and see what turns up,” Poister said.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella did not immediately return an email Thursday seeking further details.

Editor’s Note: Photos of the container and impoundment were submitted.

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