Oil and gas company Trans Energy Inc. must restore portions of streams and wetlands at 15 sites in West Virginia polluted by the company’s unauthorized discharge of dredge or fill material, according to a settlement reached with state and federal agencies.
In addition, Trans Energy will pay a penalty of $3 million to end up divided equally between the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP).
The Clean Water Act requires a company to obtain a permit from EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prior to discharging dredge or fill material into wetlands, rivers, streams and other waters of the United States.
“Today’s agreement requires that Trans Energy take important steps to comply with state and federal laws that are critical to protecting our nation’s waters, wetlands and streams,” said Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We will continue to ensure that the development of our nation’s domestic energy resources, including through the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques, complies with the Clean Water Act and other applicable federal laws.”
“As part of our commitment to safe development of domestic energy supplies, EPA is working to protect wetlands and local water supplies on which communities depend,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By enforcing environmental laws, we’re helping to ensure a level playing field for responsible businesses.”
In addition to the penalty, the company will reconstruct aquatic resources or otherwise address issues at each of the 15 sites, provide appropriate compensatory mitigation for impacts to streams and wetlands, and implement a comprehensive compliance program to ensure future compliance with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and applicable state law.
Among other requirements, the company will work to ensure that all aquatic resources end up identified prior to starting work on any future projects in West Virginia, and that appropriate consideration begins at the design stage to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources. Estimates are around $13 million that Trans Energy will need to spend to complete the restoration and mitigation work required by the consent decree.
The federal government and the WVDEP said the company impounded streams and discharged sand, dirt, rocks and other materials into streams and wetlands without a federal permit in order to construct well pads, impoundments, road crossings and other facilities related to natural gas extraction. The government also said the violations had an impact on 13,000 linear feet of stream and more than an acre of wetlands.
Filling wetlands illegally and damming streams can result in serious environmental consequences. Streams, rivers and wetlands benefit the environment by reducing flood risks, filtering pollutants, recharging groundwater and drinking water supplies, and providing food and habitat for aquatic species.
EPA discovered the violations in 2011 and 2012 through information provided by WVDEP and the public, and through routine field inspections. This summer, the company conducted an internal audit and ultimately disclosed to EPA violations at eight additional locations, which are undergoing resolution through the Consent Decree.
The settlement also resolves violations of state law brought by the WVDEP.