If anyone is still wondering whether a new wave of gas drilling in Pennsylvania using a technique called “fracking” is hurting water quality …well, now we have proof.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recenty issued a violation notice to the Cabot Oil and Gas company for spilling 8,000 gallons of water laced with chemicals from a drill site in Dimock Township, in the northeastern section of the state. The spill polluted a wetlands and caused a fish kill, according to the state agency.
The chemical compound was called LGC-35, which is mixed with water and serves as a lubricant in the well “fracking” process, according to the DEP. “Fracking” is an increasingly popular technique in which drilling companies inject water mixed with chemicals at high pressure underground, fracturing the rock and allowing natural gas to escape.
Drilling in Pennsylvania has soared in recent years, with 4,280 gas and oil drilling permits issued by the state in 2003 and 7,924 in 2008, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Most of this rise has come from drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, which cuts across the state from northeast to the southwest.
One drilling accident in Dimock Township earlier this year caused a drinking water well outside a home to explode.
“The incident is the latest in a series of environmental problems connected to Cabot’s drilling in the Dimock area,” the online news site ProPublica reported. “Last winter drinking water in several area homes was found to contain metals and methane gas that state officials determined leaked underground from Cabot wells. And in the spring the company was fined for several other spills, including an 800 gallon diesel spill from a truck that overturned.”
As discussed in Bay Daily earlier this week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is challenging Pennsylvania’s decision to fast-track erosion and sediment control permits for these drilling projects, neglecting important environmental reviews. Construction of drilling sites can increase erosion and stormwater runoff pollution, which can muddy nearby streams.
The recent spill only highlights the need for Pennsylvania to exert more careful oversight over gas drilling, avoid opening up more public lands to drilling, and enact a tax on natural gas production.
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Here is the press release from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection:
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
Dept. of Environmental Protection
Northcentral Regional Office
208 West Third Street, Suite 101
Williamsport, PA 17701
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Daniel T. Spadoni
Phone: (570) 327-3659
DEP ISSUES VIOLATION NOTICE TO CABOT OIL AND GAS
Company Must Properly Clean Up Susquehanna County Gel Spill
WILLIAMSPORT – The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a notice of violation to Cabot Oil and Gas for two liquid gel spills last week at the company’s Heitsman natural gas well pad in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, which polluted a wetland and caused a fish kill in Stevens Creek.
“DEP is very concerned about spills at Cabot sites and will require Cabot to take all necessary actions to prevent them from recurring,” DEP Northcentral Regional Director Robert Yowell said.
The notice of violation cites Cabot for an unpermitted discharge of polluting substances, an unpermitted discharge of residual waste, two unpermitted encroachments on Stevens Creek, not containing polluting substances at the well site, and an unpermitted discharge of industrial waste.
These were violations of the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law, Pennsylvania Solid Waste Management Act, the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, and the Oil and Gas Act.
Cabot must provide a written response within 10 days explaining any additional steps that will be taken to correct the violations, and what steps are being taken to prevent their recurrence.
DEP may assess a civil penalty for the violations once the cleanup is finished.
The two spills last week totaled about 8,000 gallons and involved a liquid gel called LGC-35, which is mixed with water and serves as a lubricant in the well fracking process. About 4.9 gallons of LGC-35 are mixed with each 1,000 gallons of water. Cabot informed DEP that failed pipe connections caused both spills.
The wetland was flushed with water late last week to remove the gel, and the mixture was then pumped to on-site storage tanks. No remediation was required in Stevens Creek. Some soil excavation may be required, depending upon sample results.
Cabot reported a third spill to DEP at the same site on Sept. 22 when a closed valve caused an increase in pressure and a hose ruptured. About 420 gallons of the same gel/water mixture spilled, with all but 10 gallons recovered from a catch basin. The remaining fluid is being cleaned up by Cabot contractors.
DEP's investigation is continuing and additional actions are being evaluated.