Chesapeake fined $565K
BY LAURA LEGERE
State environmental regulators have fined Chesapeake Appalachia $565,000 for three incidents at Northern Tier natural gas well sites, including an April 2011 wellhead failure in Bradford County that released thousands of gallons of wastewater into a nearby stream.
The company paid $190,000 for the failure during hydraulic fracturing of the Atgas well in Leroy Twp. as part of an agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday.
The April incident took six days to fully control and caused the company to suspend its Pennsylvania fracking operations for three weeks, regulators said. It drew national attention and raised concerns about the safety of the gas extraction process.
“The governor and I expect the highest standards to be met and when they are not, we take strong enforcement action,” DEP Secretary Michael Krancer said in a statement. “We will continue to be vigilant on that front. The protection of the state’s water is paramount.”
Environmental regulators found elevated levels of salts and barium at the confluence of a nearby stream and Towanda Creek on the day after the Bradford County spill but saw the contaminants decline to background levels over several days, DEP said.
Chesapeake continues to perform groundwater monitoring at the site. Sampling over four months showed results consistent with groundwater quality in the region, according to regulators. The company said the incident caused no lasting environmental impact.
The penalties announced Thursday also include $160,000 in fines for building a North Towanda Twp. well pad with “extremely high, steep slopes” in a wetland without permission, DEP said. Heavy rains in October 2010 caused part of the pad’s slope to fail, sending sediment into Sugar Creek and other small streams and wetlands.
Chesapeake removed the fill from the wetland and must build about 3 acres of replacement wetlands as part of its agreement with DEP.
Chesapeake also paid $215,000 for a March 2011 incident in Potter County, where sediment from an access road and well site ran off into a high-quality stream during heavy rain. The sediment clogged the water-treatment filters at the Galeton Borough water supply plant downstream, requiring $190,000 in repairs and upgrades that were paid for by Chesapeake, DEP said.
The company blamed a “pre-existing, poorly maintained logging road” for most of the sediment.
In a statement, Brian Grove, Chesapeake’s senior director of corporate development for the region, said the company “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.”
The company has enhanced its operations because of the incidents, he said.
Chesapeake was fined a record $1.1 million by state regulators in May for a series of water contamination incidents and a well-site fire that injured three workers in 2010 and 2011.