PA DEP Fines Chesapeake Energy $565K for Three Violations

gavel on moneyThe Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) yesterday fined Chesapeake Energy a total of $565,000 for major violations at three Marcellus Shale wells in Potter and Bradford counties in 2010 and 2011.

From the DEP press release:

The Department of Environmental Protection has fined Chesapeake Appalachia LLC a total of $565,000 in civil penalties and reimbursement costs for erosion and sediment control violations, wetland encroachment violations and an April 2011 well control incident.

“The governor and I expect the highest standards to be met and when they are not, we take strong enforcement action,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. “We will continue to be vigilant on that front. The protection of the state’s water is paramount.”

West Branch Township, Potter County

DEP fined Chesapeake $215,000 for a March 2011 incident in West Branch Township, Potter County, where sediment discharged into a stream classified as high quality. High-quality streams receive some of the highest levels of protection in the state, and operators are expected to ensure their work does not negatively affect them.

In late February and early March, heavy rain caused significant erosion to an access road and Chesapeake’s Beech Flats gas well pad, both of which lacked sufficient controls in place to prevent the run-off. As a result, significant amounts of sediment entered the Right Branch of Wetmore Run, a high-quality stream. 

An inspection found that accelerated erosion had occurred at several spots on the access road and the well pad because the operator failed to construct adequate controls to prevent the run-off of sediment.

The sediment traveled downstream and impacted Galeton Borough Authority’s water treatment filters. Chesapeake has since paid $190,000 to the authority to repair and upgrade the water supply facility and has made assurances it will reimburse the authority any additional costs associated with this incident.

DEP issued a compliance order that required Chesapeake to cease all activity at the site that would disturb earth, such as road maintenance and grading; movement of rock, soil or earth; and activity associated with gas drilling and extraction. Chesapeake was also ordered to implement additional measures designed to lessen environmental impact and submit a revised erosion and sediment control plan.

Soon after that, the company installed silt fences, silt socks, gravel surfacing of the access road and a stormwater capture ditch, and it submitted the revised plan.

Follow-up inspections determined that the violations were corrected. The authority thanked DEP for taking immediate action.

Leroy Township, Bradford County

In addition, Chesapeake paid $190,000 as part of a consent order and agreement after the operator lost control of a well head during hydraulic fracturing of the Atgas 2H Well in Leroy Township, Bradford County, on April 19, 2011. Fluids from the well mixed with rainwater and entered a nearby unnamed tributary to Towanda Creek and Towanda Creek itself.

On April 20, DEP detected levels of total dissolved solids, chlorides and barium that were higher than background levels at the mouth of the tributary, where it enters Towanda Creek. Subsequent testing further downstream and on the following days showed these levels returned to normal background levels.

Chesapeake took two days to stop the flow from the well and four days beyond that to bring the well fully under control. At DEP’s request, Chesapeake suspended completion activities at well sites across the state for approximately three weeks while assessing its equipment’s integrity, containment mechanisms and procedures.

Chesapeake’s payment includes a $67,000 reimbursement for costs associated with the agency’s response. The company must also conduct further testing, using an independent laboratory, of five groundwater monitoring wells from the surrounding area to ensure there were no impacts to groundwater from the release. Samples of the five monitoring wells taken in July, August and October 2011 showed levels consistent with regional groundwater quality.

North Towanda Township, Bradford County

In connection with a third site, DEP fined Chesapeake $160,000 as part of a consent order and agreement resulting from violations in 2010 of impacting a wetland and allowing sediment to enter Sugar Creek in North Towanda Township, Bradford County. Part of a well pad was built in the wetland. It was constructed with extremely high, steep slopes which, after significant precipitation, caused additional sediment to slide further into the wetland and the nearby stream.

A series of site inspections in July 2010 found that the well pad had been constructed partially in a wetland and the construction activities deviated from the site’s erosion and sediment control plan, rendering the site vulnerable to erosion. DEP issued a notice of violation for encroaching on wetlands without a permit and failing to implement best management practices. A follow-up meeting also directed Chesapeake to develop a remediation plan.

By constructing the well pad in that way, the company filled a third of an acre of wetlands without authorization. There were additional temporary impacts to the wetland through erosion and tree clearing and in October 2010, heavy rains caused the middle portion of the pad’s fill slope to fail and sediment to enter Sugar Creek and an unnamed tributary, as well as further impact the nearby forested wetland.

In addition to paying the penalty, the company has removed the fill from the impacted wetland and must construct 2.55 acres of replacement wetlands. The company is also required to submit regular, detailed wetlands restoration monitoring reports.

Chesapeake’s actions constituted violations of the Oil and Gas Act, Clean Streams Law and the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act.(1)

Chesapeake says they have learned from those incidents and have improved their operations to prevent a recurrence:

"Chesapeake worked proactively with all appropriate regulatory agencies throughout the response and analysis of these incidents to achieve compliance, identify and implement operational improvements and ensure proper resolution," company spokesman Brian Grove said in a statement.(2)

(1) Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (Feb 9, 2012) – DEP Fines Chesapeake Appalachia $565,000 for Multiple Violations

(2) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb 10, 2012) – Shale driller is fined for major violations

  • Anonymous

    Exactly what I posted earlier to JW, and any other Anti reading. These companies must be hammered financially and sanctioned if found to violate drilling regulations.The pro’s do not want to see this type of behavior from companies especially big ones like Chesapeake. They need to set the example out there. There are no excuses for sloppy work, that could have easily been avoided.   

  • Timothy R. Ruggiero

    Part of the price one pays for being the ‘World’s largest fracker” (quote from CHK Aubrey McClendon) is the expectation that they actually know what they are doing and are prepared for ‘what if’. None of these wells are the first CHK has ever drilled, so something as simple and basic as preventing run off is inexcusable. Aubrey and his mouthpieces continually tout that they have successfully drilled thousands of wells, yet perform at bush league level. How many crimes can one commit before society demands the offender be forever removed from it? 

  • Anonymous

    Timothy, I agree with most of your statement, however I just do not think that they were policed by the Conservation Police as much in the “old” day as they are going to be today. I’m all for strict oversight and adherence to the rules set forth for safe drilling. I’m pro/drilling and want to see this resource extracted as safely as humanly possible. There is no place for ignoring the basics in construction,and these companies that try and cut corners should be severely punished financially. If they become repeat offenders they should be removed from obtaining any further permits. If that happens a few times, it will cost companies millions of lost revenue, then all the other drillers big and small will fall into place and ensure they adhere to the rules. As for Chesapeake, Aubrey should fire that construction supervisor immediately.

  • Anonymous

    This should have never happened, but to ask a person or company to be perfect ( which is something he finger pointing government and society is far from) is just asking to much. Since they constructed the pad without erosion control I think they should have been fined. However if there were controls in place they should only be required to fix the problem. I have seen much of PA in the last few months and traveled through much of the Appalachians. As beautiful as some of it is there is still quite a bit that leaves a lot to be desired. Places where there are already tires and kitchen appliances lining the creek and riverbanks. Not to say this particular incident did not set back something that was in pristine condition, but I do imagine they are about to fix something that had already seen a negative human impact. As an example long before I worked in this area there had been a decline in the amount of Timber rattlesnakes and as working with reptiles is a hobby of mine I decided to start sending money to a group to help REBUILD habitat in PA for them. This was before the drilling rigs came that this happened. The company I work for now has hired people to go out and catch rattlesnakes and inject transmitters into them so they can be “studied” so that the gas industry can help foot the bill for that as well. As I said before this was a problem the people of the PA created before my industry got here. What the community and government has now is a scapegoat with the “new” industry.

  • Anonymous

    Also when I would like to say that when I say “The people of PA” or anything along those lines I do not mean that in a derogatory way. I have met many fine people here and have made many friends. Everybody is not part of the problem but to those of you who are I imagine you know it and are just to proud to admit it.

  • Anonymous

    Oilman, I have read all of your posts and there is no bigger fan of yours on this site then me.I respect your advice and work ethic, and the way you set the record straight when propaganda is written on this site . With that said, the fracking business is a very sensitive subject with the general public, our government,and especially the media. It is imperative that companies proceed with the utmost responsibility,and respect of the land, and the neighbors. They are under the microscope and every incident however small it may be will be blown out of proportion in the media and by the Anti’s.There is no place for sloppy construction. Setting up roads and pads are the basics of the business. Companies like Chesapeake have a greater responsibility bestowed upon them to set the bar high for other smaller companies to follow. Their CEO is on television all over the place stating how safe fracking is,and how they will be stewards of the land, helping communities, etc.This is mostly true, there has been prosperity,jobs and hope where drilling has come. Government officials are watching everything that’s going on in the industry to justify their positions both pro and against. So, there is a lot riding on every well drilled. This type construction is like no other, it doesn’t matter to an Anti or Congressman that the locals are polluting their own backyard. They are looking at these companies and waiting for the next “big” mistake, so they can say “I told ya so”.  The realistic man knows that in construction there are always variables that happen. No one can foresee or avoid every possible problem that may occur.Accidents can and will happen, but every construction supervisor on every drill site must have his A game on.They must not give the Anti’s any ammunition to fuel their agenda’s, especially a simple one like erosion control. They must also be completely aware of whats truly at stake, either the future energy resource for our country the next 100 years or a shut down environmental disaster that could have been, that’s a lot of responsibility.