Southpointe-based Marcellus Shale drilling company Range Resources has initiated the process to close a controversial centralized impoundment in Washington County, the subject of myriad lawsuits and a federal probe.
Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister on Monday confirmed the agency is reviewing an Impoundment Closure and Reclamation Plan submitted by the company for what is known as the Yeager impoundment in Amwell Township.
“They do not have to do this since impoundment closing plans are part of the original impoundment permits,” Poster said of the plan submitted. “However, because of what they say is local interest, they felt that they should present a closure plan for the impoundment. We have been in the process of reviewing the plan and will issue a response later this week.”
He continued: “If DEP approves the plan, Range would be able to proceed with closure of the impoundment. As part of that closure process, Range will be required to determine if there are any impacted soils at the site.”
If there was a release of water from the impoundment, any impacted soils would be required to be remediated and Range would need to conduct confirmatory testing to demonstrate that the release is remediated, Poister explained.
Three Washington County families in 2012 filed a civil lawsuit against Range Resources and two other companies claiming they had been sickened and their water contaminated by drilling activities conducted on what was known as the Yeager farm property near their homes.
Here is an excerpt from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the suit:
“According to the lawsuit, Range Resources knew its shale gas development operation on the Yeager farm property on McAdams Road in Amwell had contaminated the groundwater with chemicals from a leaking drilling waste pit and a 3 million-gallon hydraulic fracturing fluid flowback impoundment as early as November 2010. But, the suit states, the company told the plaintiffs that tests showed their well water was safe to drink, shower and bathe in, cook with, and provide to farm animals and pets. Some of those animals were sickened, and some died.
Range Resources has maintained for years that its Yeager operations, which include one “fracked” well and two drilled wells, condensate tanks, the flowback fluids impoundment and drill cuttings pit, have not contaminated groundwater.”
To read the entire story, click here.
In another lawsuit regarding, in part, the Yeager impoundment, Beth Voyles, whose farm is located 800 feet from oil and gas well drilling operations including the pit, alleged in court that the DEP did not investigate various alleged violations there.
“She alleges that her quality of life and health have decreased dramatically since drilling of natural gas wells at the site and completion of the impoundment. Her health ailments include rashes, blisters, light-headedness, nose bleeds and lethargy,” court documents indicate. “She avers medical testing revealed the presence of elevated concentrations of arsenic, benzene, and toluene in her body.”
Court documents show that Voyles has accused the DEP of failing to undertake a full investigation into air and water issues at the site to determine whether or not those health effects could have been caused by contamination.
In short, the suit alleges that the site “fails to comply with DEP impoundment construction standards and that DEP has failed to issue to (Range Resources) various violation notices, to order compliance with the impoundment construction standards and/or impose civil penalties for (the company’s) violation of the above laws.”
The DEP has maintained that it investigated the complaints and notified Voyles of the results on Sept. 22, 2011. Further, the DEP maintained “the court lacks jurisdiction to review and agency’s exercise of its discretion to enforce it statutory and regulatory duties.”
The Yeager impoundment also made headlines last year, when documents garnered through the discovery process– including internal emails and personnel records detailing an unreported spill of more than 21,000 gallons of flow back water, as well as a “cover up” perpetrated by one of its employees– became public.
The investigative report on those documents can be read here.
Poister has said DEP is investigating the alleged incident.
Neither Matt Pitzarella nor Mark Winkler – both Range Resources’ spokesmen – immediately responded to emails seeking further information about plans to close the pit.