PA Gas Drilling Co. Fined Over Fracking Fluid Spill

Atlas Resources LLC, a natural gas drilling company with operations in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale region, has been fined $97,350 for a spill of hydraulic fracturing fluids in the southwest part of the state. According to a press release from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the spill, which occurred late last year, polluted a high-quality watershed in Hopewell Township, Washington County.

DEP officials say Atlas failed to report the spill. The violations were discovered on Dec. 5 and 6, 2009, at the Cowden 17 gas well on Old Trail Road off Route 844. Once the unknown quantity of fluid overflowed the impoundment’s banks, it ran over the ground and into a tributary of Dunkle Run.

This spill violated Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act and Solid Waste Management Act, as well as the state’s Clean Streams Law. Atlas corrected the problem once it was discovered, but failed to report it to DEP, the release said.

“It is unacceptable for drilling companies in Pennsylvania to threaten public safety or harm the environment through careless acts, such as this,” DEP Southwest Regional Director George Jugovic Jr. said in the statement.

The Atlas Resources incident is just one of many that have been perpetrated by gas drillers performing fracking operations in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale.

According to a report recently released by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, the state has identified 1,435 violations by 43 Marcellus Shale drilling companies since January 2008. Of those, 952 were identified as having or likely to have an impact on the environment. Keep in mind, there are only about 1,458 Marcellus wells drilled in the state at this time.

The violations listed in the report do not include violations incurred by drilling wastewater haulers. According to the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, during a 3-day enforcement blitz by the DEP in June 2010, 669 traffic citations and 818 written warnings were issued to trucks hauling Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater.

A separate analysis by Clean Water Action released earlier this summer found 565 violations at Marcellus Shale gas drilling sites between Jan. 1 and June 18 this year alone. The violation included some particularly disturbing instances, including improper cementing/casing of wells (11) and “illegal disposal of industrial waste” (80). The largest number of this year’s violations, 166, were “General Violations” meaning violations of the Clean Streams Law, Oil and Gas Act, and permit violations.

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