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Ohio Utica Shale

Eco-groups seek enforcement action against Tioga County driller

By Bob Downing Published: April 8, 2014

From environmental groupsw today:

PITTSBURGH AND WASHINGTON, D.C.///APRIL 8, 2014///The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), on behalf of PennEnvironment, the Responsible Drilling Alliance, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Clean Water Action, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, and PennFuture, asks Pennsylvania and EPA officials to initiate enforcement against EQT Production Company for discharges to ground and surface water at its hydraulic fracturing site in Duncan Township, Tioga County, PA. The events described in the letter stem primarily from a 5-million gallon leaking, unauthorized, waste impoundment that polluted Rock Run, a "Class-A Wild Trout" water, caused significant groundwater contamination, and resulted in vast swaths of dead and stressed vegetation. Discovered in May 2012, the impoundment leaked because there were over 100 holes and tears in the liner.

EQT’s own site investigation revealed the discharge of tens of thousands of gallons of fracking wastewater to groundwater, Rock Run, and unnamed tributaries to Rock Run. The wastewater, mostly "flowback", contained pollutants such as barium, copper, manganese, chloride, strontium, arsenic, iron, lithium, and lead at levels that exceed state and federal health-based and environmental standards.

Despite voluntary efforts to clean-up the contamination, the latest sampling data publicly available (September 2013) indicates that high levels of manganese still exist and that the pH of Rock Run and its tributaries has not returned to normal. Likewise, levels of arsenic, barium, chloride, iron, manganese, lead, lithium, and strontium detected in groundwater, nearby springs, and wetlands still exceed safe levels.

"The contamination being caused by EQT's irresponsible operations demonstrates why Pennsylvania needs to ban the use of open impoundments for the storage of natural gas waste," said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale Campaign Coordinator with Clean Water Action. "However, it is not enough to just have good policies in place. We also need to hold companies accountable and appropriately punish them when their operations threaten our health and environment."

It’s been almost two years since the leak was discovered yet neither the DEP nor the EPA has taken an enforcement action against EQT. The voluntary cleanup program under which EQT is proceeding can be discontinued at any time, is not enforceable, and provides no transparency to the community impacted by the pollution.

"The public and the environment cannot be safeguarded against harm," said Mary Greene, EIP Senior Managing Attorney, "in the absence of timely and appropriate enforcement against fracking operators who violate state and federal environmental laws. Voluntary cleanup programs play an important role in environmental management but are not a substitute for penalties and enforceable compliance orders in the face of serious violations."

The discharges to groundwater and surface waters caused by the leaking impoundment pose a risk to human health and the environment and according to environmental groups, violate multiple provisions of Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law, the Clean Water Act (CWA), and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). On behalf of the environmental groups, EIP is requesting that the Pennsylvania Attorney General, DEP Secretary, and EPA Region 3 thoroughly investigate EQT and the site, develop a comprehensive and protective cleanup plan, impose appropriate penalties, and if warranted, assess natural resource damages.

To see the letter and attachments, go to: http://environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/documents/LetterandAttachmentsPortfolio.pdf

ADDITIONAL QUOTES

"If ever the public needed an advocate in the fight against fracking pollution, the time is now," stated David Masur, PennEnvironment Executive Director. "Often, communities are up against powerful interests with some of the deepest pockets and that have untold political access and influence in Harrisburg and Washington DC.  Politicians often side with the polluters and frackers instead of the everyday people of Pennsylvania. We hope that Attorney General Kane will stand up and defend Pennsylvanians in this David vs Goliath fight."

"PA DEP’s handling of a pit found to have 100-plus holes in the liner – and that leaked at least 57,000 gallons of contaminated flowback – is unacceptable, and confirms for the public two important points: 1) shale gas development is inherently dangerous to our communities and environment, especially without proper regulation and oversight; and 2) Pennsylvania officials are more beholden to drillers than the communities they represent," said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

"Healthy, resilient headwaters are essential to good water quality in the Susquehanna. It is the PA DEP's duty to protect the Susquehanna's vital, clean headwaters from the negative pollution impacts that shale gas fracking create. When the PA DEP fails to protect the Susquehanna's headwaters from illegal pollution, like fracking wastes leaking from EQT’s Tioga County well-pad," said Michael Helfrich, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, "it is critical that the Pennsylvania Attorney General and EPA step-in to enforce the law and protect vital headwaters that support clean drinking water for millions downstream."

"As this episode reminds us," said Mark Szybist, staff attorney for PennFuture, "the greatest threat that unconventional gas activities pose to groundwater isn’t necessarily from hydraulic fracturing operations. The dangers inherent in storing, transporting, and disposing of the huge volumes of waste produced by fracking are great – and in this case call for a strong enforcement."

Robbie Cross of Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA) said: "The headwaters of the Pine Creek watershed encompass a magnificient area of deep forests and mountain streams that should be protected from environmental degradation. Unfortunately, it has been the focus of an extraordinary amount of unconventional gas drilling. Near Antrim, EQT has added added insult to injury by polluting a watershed that has in recent years been restored from the damaged caused by the coal industry. EQT must be held accountable."

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ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

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National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

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Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

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Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.