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.