Pennsylvania Fracker Hit with Record Fine for Water Contamination, FireMay 18, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
Chesapeake Energy is facing more trouble in Pennsylvania. Yesterday, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced it was assessing the Marcellus shale natural gas driller large fines for contaminating water wells in Bradford County, and for a fire that broke out at a hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) site in Washington County.
The largest fine - $900,000 - was assessed for several incidents in which gas migrated and contaminated water wells in Bradford County's Terry, Monroe, Towanda and Wilmot townships. All of the tainted wells were located near Chesapeake natural gas wells. A DEP investigation determined that improper well casing and cementing had allowed the migration. In addition to the fine, Chesapeake has agreed to remediate the affected water supplies and take other action as set forth in a Consent Order and Agreement it entered into with the DEP.
The second fine - $188,000 - was assessed for a tank fire that occurred on February 23 in Avella Township, Washington County. Three workers were injured in that incident. The DEP's investigation determined that the fire was the result of improper handling and management of condensate, a wet gas only found in certain geologic areas.
The fine for the Bradford County water contamination is the largest the state has ever assessed against an oil or gas company. The fine for the Washington County fire was the largest allowable under the Oil and Gas Act.
Chesapeake Energy, one of Pennsylvania’s biggest shale gas producers, has faced other problems in Bradford County in the past. Last October its subsidiary, Chesapeake Appalachia, was named in a lawsuit filed by a Bradford County woman who claimed her water well has been contaminated due to the companies’ nearby gas drilling operations. The lawsuit claims the alleged contamination rendered the plaintiff’s well water unusable and caused her personal injury.
The plaintiff in that lawsuit is being represented by Parker Waichman LLP, along with the Law Office of Michael Gleeson, Neblett, Beard & Arsenault and the Becnel Law Firm, LLC.
Chesapeake could also still face DEP fines for a natural gas blowout that occurred at a Bradford County fracking site on April 19. The blowout allowed thousands of gallons of chemical-laced fracking fluid to spew from the damaged well, onto adjacent farmland and into a tributary of the Susquehanna River.