EQT faces charges in 2012 spill at Tioga County drilling site

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office has filed a criminal complaint against Downtown-based EQT Corp. regarding an incident in 2012 in which flowback water leaked from a shale drilling site in Tioga County.

Flowback is water containing sediment, metals and salt that returns to the surface after hydraulic fracturing.

The attorney general’s office launched a criminal investigation on Sept. 22 based on a referral from the state Fish and Boat Commission, alleging that EQT allowed flowback water from a 6-million gallon impoundment at a well site in Tioga County to enter three waterways, according to the complaint.

One of those waterways is an unnamed tributary of Rock Run, which is designated as a high quality, cold water fishery by the state Department of Environmental Protection and a Class A wild brook trout stream by the Fish and Boat Commission.

The Downtown energy company is facing six misdemeanor charges of pollution of waters; disturbance of waterways; and disturbance of waterways and watersheds.  

In May 2012, EQT notified the DEP of an estimated 300 gallon to 500 gallon spill of flowback onto the ground at the well site. The spill was confined, according to the complaint.

While the DEP monitored cleanup at the site, one of its inspectors found signs of a leak from the impoundment. An EQT investigation found holes in the impoundment liner. The fluid contained aluminum, which in levels that exceed 0.5 milligrams per liter, is harmful to aquatic life.

The company said it has been in discussions with the Fish and Boat Commission regarding the “2012 accident discharge.”

EQT “still hopes to resolve its disagreement without litigation,” said spokeswoman Linda Robertson. “A statute of limitations deadline, however, required the commission to file its own complaint through the office of the attorney general by Sept. 30.

“Notwithstanding disagreement over the commission’s penalty calculation, EQT remains ready and willing to continue discussion with both the commission and the office of the attorney general,” Ms. Robertson said.

In September 2013, the attorney general’s office filed charges against another driller, XTO Energy Inc., a division of Exxon Mobil, for a 2010 spill of gas well wastewater in Lycoming County.

A grand jury agreed that XTO violated the Clean Streams Law and the Solid Waste Management Act. At the time, XTO called the criminal charges "unprecedented, baseless and an abuse of prosecutorial discretion."

Stephanie Ritenbaugh: sritenbaugh@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4910

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