Tag Archives: Red Oak Water Transfer

PA State Rep. Calls for Investigation of Unreported Spill, ‘Cover Up’ By Marcellus Shale Company

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A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Monday called on county, state and federal authorities to investigate an unreported spill and cover up of flowback water related to Marcellus Shale drilling activity in Washington County.

That spill and cover up were detailed in emails and personnel files from Red Oak Water Transfer, now doing business as Rockwater Energy Solutions. Those documents were garnered through the discovery process in a suit filed against Range Resources and more than a dozen of its subcontractors by a group of residents who allege that their drinking water was contaminated and family members sickened by drilling activity near their homes.

The internal emails between Rockwater employees and executives, which were first reported Saturday by the Marcellus Monitor website, detail a spill of gas well flowback water on Dec. 6, 2010, with a minimum of 21,000 gallons spilling into an environmentally sensitive waterway that empties into a trout-stocking stream.

The emails describe black water pouring out of a pipe into the ground, and then into a nearby stream. However, the exact location of the spill was not specified, and sworn testimony from a Rockwater executive, who was included in the emails, now denies any spill ever occurred.

In a letter directed to state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone, U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the state Fish and Boat Commission White wrote:

In September 2013, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane filed charges against XTO Energy Inc. in relation to a spill of 50,000 gallons of flowback water in Lycoming County. The Washington County would appear to be equally, if not more egregious because the spill was never reported and was in fact covered up by the companies. The emails indicate a minimum of 21,000 gallons of flowback water, but the actual amount could have been far more.

Even worse is the fact that the producer, Range Resources, admitted in court filings that they do not know all of the chemicals (it) uses in the hydraulic fracturing process. Based on that admission, which was reported on in the national media, there is simply no way to know what was in the flowback water that spilled. As such, the impact to the waterways and the subsequent impact to humans, wildlife and fish cannot possibly be determined with any level of specificity.

Based on the seriousness of this incident, the uncertain impacts to the people and habitat of Pennsylvania and the seemingly clear intent to cover up this incident to avoid any level of responsibility and or accountability whatsoever, I am asking  you to investigate and if necessary prosecute any responsible parties to the fullest extent of the law.

However, in order for the attorney general to take the case, it must be referred by the DEP, the Washington County district attorney or the state Fish and Boat Commission — and White urged all three to refer the case to the attorney general immediately.

“With the companies involved still operating every day in southwestern Pennsylvania, the people deserve immediate action and real answers about what really happened out there,” White said Tuesday in a press release . “Identifying and punishing bad actors is the only way to put the natural gas industry on notice that their commitment to environmental safety must be more than industry talking points. You have to practice what you preach.”

Messages left on the cell phones and at the Harrisburg offices of state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane, and state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, seeking comment on the matter were not returned Tuesday.

The spill occurred in their Legislative districts.

Editor’s Note: There will be several follow ups coming regarding this spill, and the call for an investigation. In the meantime, if you would like to view the entire letter White sent to authorities see below or click here.

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Internal Emails from Marcellus Water Hauler Detail Unreported Spill, ‘Cover Up’

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Internal email correspondence from Red Oak Water Transfer revealed executives were not only aware of a spill of at least 21,000 gallons of flowback water from Marcellus Shale drilling operations in Washington County, but also detailed the subsequent “cover up,” according to a motion filed in Washington County Common Pleas Court Friday.

The motion also indicates that the email regarding the spill was sent to executives four days after the incident. However, the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Act requires that companies notify the state Department of Environmental Protection within two hours of those incidents, the attorneys for the plaintiff’s wrote in the motion.

There is no evidence that the spill was ever reported to the DEP, and one of the executives who received an email about the incident later testified under oath that he doubted it ever happened, adding that he believed that it could have been fabricated by an employee.

…I did an investigation myself and I couldn’t find a single sign or evidence indicating that any type of water was released of that magnitude,” the executive, Matt Smiley, wrote.

But internal personnel files show the manager responsible for the spill was in fact suspended without pay because of his role in what was described in the file as a “cover up.”

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Attorneys for Stacey Haney and a handful of other residents who live near a frack pond in Amwell Township operated by Range Resources, for whom Red Oak, a Texas-based company, is a subcontractor, filed the motion to compel discovery responses from Red Oak. The motion, filed with the Washington County Prothonotary Office, is part of a suit against Range and more than a dozen subcontractors filed in 2012. The suit alleges that toxic exposure from the impoundment caused those residents to suffer various illnesses. It also alleges that those companies were responsible for contamination of those residents’ drinking water.

In the motion filed Friday, attorneys for the plaintiffs ask the court to compel Red Oak, now doing business as Rockwater Energy Solutions, to disclose photos of the spill referenced in internal email correspondence between the company’s Director of Safety and Compliance Rich Hoffman and other executives.

The emails and other documents were disclosed by Red Oak as part of the discovery process related to the suit. One of the emails Hoffman sent Dec. 10, 2010 with the subject line reading “Range Situation” described the circumstances of the spill, which reportedly happened Dec. 6, 2010.

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In the email, he wrote that Smiley, general manager of Rockwater, had been alerted to the spill, and pictures taken on an employee’s cell phone of the incident had been forwarded to him for review.

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Hoffman wrote:

The spill occurred at a stream crossing due to a pipeline failure, most likely caused by an ice related pressure buildup. Here is where things get weird. Everyone we spoke with, either in person or via telephone, was very reluctant to speak…up.

And:

At a minimum, 500 barrels of flowback water went into the stream…Based on the MarkWest permit we found at the stream crossing, the stream is an ‘environmentally-sensitive waterway’ because it empties into a trout-stocking stream.

In the message, Hoffman writes that he was able to get one employee to speak up about the incident. He then gives a list of what that employee had reported to him. The details given by that employee included:

Crew members noted lots of black water pouring out of a pipe and onto the ground, then into the stream.

The director of safety and compliance also wrote about what the employee said happened when he called his supervisor, Kelly Blackburn, to report the incident:

Kelly swore, then told him to shut off the pumps and flush the line with fresh water. Kelly also told (the employee) to keep it quiet.

Hoffman also wrote that the spill was never reported to upper management of Red Oak, or to Range. “If this incident is reported to Range, it could be the end of our business relationship,” he wrote.

In a subsequent email, Hoffman pondered why spills were even monitored and documented, and even references court action.

Why do we track spills at all? I feel once we record a spill, then we ‘own’ that event. In light of recent litigation … do we really want to have an electronic, permanent record of our acceptance of liability?

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And he went on to imply that Range Resources, not Red Oak, should be liable.

We must also consider the fact that, from a regulatory standpoint, our client partners own the water. Any reporting to a regulatory agency must be done by the client. If the client chooses not to report a particular event, are we unnecessarily exposing ourselves (and them) to liability?

Court documents indicate that Red Oak officials refuse to disclose the photos because officials said they do not exist, which led to the filing of the motion to compel.

Documents also show that Smiley denied the existence of the photographs referenced in Hoffman’s email and stated that he had never seen them.

“Nobody has pictures of anything,” Smiley said, according to court documents.

Smiley also suggested in his deposition that the employee who reported the spill may have fabricated details in an effort to get the supervisor, Blackburn, terminated.

If the incident had occurred, Smiley said, disciplinary action against Blackburn would have persisted. And Blackburn, he said, was never terminated.

But in the motion, attorneys wrote that Red Oak’s personnel files show that Blackburn had in fact been suspended without pay. The reason for the suspension was listed on those files as being related to “flowback spill cover-up” according to court documents. Red Oak personnel files, attorneys stated in the motion, also referenced photos of the spill.

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“Red Oak’s internal personnel records use the phrase ‘cover up’ to describe Kelly Blackburn’s actions in response to the flowback spill no less than three times,” attorneys write in the motion.

Court documents also indicate that Red Oak attached the phrases “serious violation” and “significant incident” to the spill.

Argument on the motion is expected to take place at 9:15 a.m. Dec. 12 at the Washington County Courthouse before President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca.

Here is the full motion:

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