The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has filed a complaint with the state Environmental Hearing Board, requesting a $4.5 million civil penalty from EQT Production Company for a major pollution incident in 2012 at EQT’s Phoenix Pad S location in Tioga County.
According to the DEP, EQT stored flowback water from Marcellus drilling operations in the impoundment, to be used for fracking after construction was complete in late 2011. Storing flowback water was a violation of its earth disturbance permit, in which the company said the impoundment would be used to store fresh water only.
“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,” the DEP said in a news release.
On April 30, 2012, a sampling revealed elevated levels of chlorides and other parameters in two of the monitoring wells in the vicinity of the existing Pad S impoundment, and a follow-up investigation found two new high conductivity seeps from a transfer line near Pad S on May 12, 2012.
In spite of these samplings, EQT continued to add fluid to the impoundment. It was only on May 30, 2012 that EQT reported to the department that the impoundment was leaking, after detecting high conductivity in a third monitoring well.
“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,” the news release states. “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.”
This kind of disregard for the environment is disappointing for a state that is making true strides in going green. Pennsylvania’s solar industry, for example, is booming. In 2013, the state installed 38 MW of solar electric capacity, ranking it 14th nationally.
Pennsylvania is ranked 11th in the country in installed solar capacity, with 238 MW of solar energy currently installed. There is enough solar energy installed in the state to power 28,800 homes. Solar energy is lauded as an inexhaustible fuel source that is pollution-free.
In September, another gas producer, Range Resources Corp, settled DEP allegations of contamination of water and soil from fracking fluids by agreeing to pay a $4.15 million fine. At the time, the DEP said that was the biggest fine against an oil and gas operator in the state’s shale drilling era.
“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.”