Pennsylvania Fracking Fluid Spill Under Investigation

A gas drilling company could face penalties for a fracking fluid spill in Pennsylvania. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is investigating an estimated 13,000-gallon hydraulic fracturing fluid spill at an XTO Energy natural gas well in Penn Township, Lycoming County, in the northeast part of the state.

According to a DEP press release, inspectors last week found an open valve on a 21,000-gallon tank that was storing fluids left over from hydraulic fracking at the site of a producing natural gas well. The DEP said the inspector closed the valve.

“This spill was initially estimated at more than 13,000 gallons by the company and has polluted an unnamed tributary to Sugar Run and a spring,” said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Nels Taber. “There are also two private drinking water wells in the vicinity that will be sampled for possible impacts.”

DEP inspectors have collected samples of nearby soil samples and surface water. Initial field meter readings showed elevated levels of conductivity and salinity in the spring and unnamed tributary. Conductivity measures water’s ability to carry an electric current, while salinity measures the dissolved salt content in water. Elevated levels of both are indications that spilled fracking fluid is present.

XTO Energy hired cleanup contractor Minuteman Response, which has been on-site for several days vacuuming spilled fluids and mobilizing equipment to excavate soil. A fence also has been installed to prevent a neighbor’s cattle from grazing in the impacted area of the pasture.

A notice of violation letter will be sent to XTO Energy this week and the company will be required to remediate the site properly, the DEP said.

Pennsylvania, which sets atop the natural gas rich Marcellus shale, has become ground zero in the debate surrounding fracking. Environmentalists are concerned that those chemicals could make their way into water supplies. In Pennsylvania, fracking has been named a suspect in several instances of water contamination.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act – deemed by fracking opponents the “Halliburton Loophole.” As a result, frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up their fracking fluids.

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