The state Department of Environmental Protection is seeking to fine Range Resources-Appalachia LLC $8.9 million for failing to fix a gas well in Lycoming County that it says began leaking methane and contaminating private water wells, streams and a pond in 2011 and continues to do so.
The civil penalty is the biggest ever assessed for a shale gas drilling-related environmental violation in Pennsylvania — more than double the previous largest, $4.15 million, also paid by Range, to settle violations last year at six leaky wastewater impoundments in Washington County.
The DEP announced the latest fine Tuesday after issuing an order May 11 requiring Range to submit a plan to repair the Lycoming County well’s casing. The casing is supposed to prevent leaks into shallow groundwater. The DEP also issued Range a notice of violation in September 2013 for the leaking well casing.
The company, which has denied its well caused the contamination, submitted a plan to put the well into production without repairing the cement casing, a proposal the DEP deemed unacceptable.
“Range Resources has the responsibility to eliminate the gas migration that this poorly constructed well is causing,” DEP Secretary John Quigley said in a news release. “Refusing to make the necessary repairs to protect the public and the environment is not an option.”
In addition to the financial penalty, imposed for violations of the state Oil and Gas Act and the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law, the DEP has ordered Range to “remediate the well in a manner that immediately ceases the discharge of methane to ground and surface water.”
Mr. Quigley said the amount of the fine assessed is related to the ongoing violations of the Clean Streams Law and their seriousness.
Range’s Harman Lewis 1H well was drilled in Moreland Township, Lycoming County, in north-central Pennsylvania, in February and March 2011 and hydraulically fractured that June. The gas well is about 2,100 feet from the nearest private water well.
Range has appealed the May 11 order to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board. A statement issued by the Fort Worth, Texas-based oil and gas drilling company repeated its denial of responsibility and said the methane contamination of the water wells predates Range’s operations in the area.
“We believe we’ve complied with DEP’s requests and while we have a disagreement about this situation, we are very confident in the mechanical integrity of the well and we are equally confident that the environment and community is not at risk,” Range said in the statement.
“We will continue to be transparent with the department with the substantial data we have that proves that the methane of concern exists naturally at the surface and subsurface in this part of the state, long before our activity, and is not in any way related to our operations.”
Mr. Quigley said the DEP has analyzed the water contamination around Range’s well and determined the methane in the water is the same type found in the deep Marcellus Shale formation.
“We wouldn’t assess this severe penalty if we were not confident the well was the source of the pollution,” he said.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983.
First Published June 16, 2015 1:33 PM