Range Resources will pay a $4.15 million penalty to settle violations related to six Marcellus Shale gas drilling and fracking wastewater impoundments in Washington County that contaminated soil and groundwater, state officials said.
It’s the largest fine ever imposed against a Marcellus Shale gas drilling company, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The consent order will result in the closing of five of the football-field-sized impoundments and require Range Resources to upgrade its operations at two others to meet more stringent, but not yet adopted, state standards.
The consent order “reaffirms the administration’s unwavering commitment to protecting Pennsylvania’s soil and water resources,” and establishes higher standards for construction of new impoundments, said DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo.
A statement posted on Range Resources’ website said there were “elevated levels of chlorides, or salt, at some older facilities,” and had no impact on an private water wells. State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, said there was no secret there were problems at the drilling reservoirs, each capable of holding 13 million to-15 million gallons of wastewater, and DEP enforcement was long overdue.
“This action is about looking good, not doing good,” White said. “The DEP will try to spin this but the $4 million is just the price of doing business for Range.”
White said the state should ban all new shale drilling wastewater impoundments because they are not an industry best practice and most drilling companies have stopped using them.
The DEP news release said the violations include releases of “flowback water” from wells where hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” occurred. DEP officials also said there has been no impact on local private drinking water supplies, a claim that anti-drilling activists question and that is the subject of several ongoing legal actions.
The consent order requires Range to immediately begin closing the Hopewell Township 11 impoundment known as the Lowry impoundment; the Cecil Township 23 , known as Worstell; and the Kearns impoundment, also in Cecil.
Range also will continue its ongoing closure of the Yeager impoundment in Amwell, and must close the Bednarski impoundment in Hopewell by April 2015.
The consent order said Range violated state permit requirements by failing to submit building plans to the DEP for six of the impoundments, and failed to contain spills of recycled water and fracking fluids at six impoundments.
At the Kearns impoundment, the order said Range failed to control fracking fluid from flowing from a pipe, onto the ground and into a tributary of Brush Run, a state-designated High Quality stream, resulting in harm to aquatic life.
Also at Kearns, in October 2011, the company failed to contain approximately 400 barrels of used fracking fluids, which released into the ground and a nearby stream, Dunkle Run.
At the Yeager impoundment, Range failed to contain fracking and other fluids in February 2013 and in April and May 2014.