The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 that it has fined Range Resources $8.9 million for failing to fix a gas well .
The gas well in question is the Harman Lewis Unit 1H, located in Moreland Township, Lycoming County, PA. According to the DEP Compliance report for the Harman Lewis Unit 1H the first inspections were on March 25, 2011. Three violations were noted and listed as corrected or abated:
- CSL402POTPOL – There is a potential for polluting substance(s) reaching Waters of the Commonwealth and may require a permit
- 56(1) – Pit and tanks not constructed with sufficient capacity to contain pollutional substances.
- SWMA301 – Failure to properly store, transport, process or dispose of a residual waste.
A follow-up inspection in February 2012 resulted in a violation 78.86 – Failure to report defective, insufficient, or improperly cemented casing w/in 24 hrs or submit plan to correct w/in 30 days. Defective cement 78.86: Gas found pressure and flow on 2 annuli. Both the 9 5/8 x 5 1/2 and the 13 3/8 x 9 5/8.
Per the DEP compliance report no further inspections were noted until December 31, 2013, more than a year later. The December inspection resulted in the issuance of a Notice of Violation (NOV) for OGA 3220(A) – Failure to plug the well upon abandoning it, per 25 Pa Code 78.91(a).
IT KEEPS ON LEAKING
DEP said the Harman Lewis Unit 1H began leaking methane and contaminating private water wells, streams and a pond in 2011 and continues to do so.
Nothing further appeared to be done until May 11, 2015 when DEP issued Administrative orders:
- 81(a)3 – CASING AND CEMENTING – GENERAL PROVISIONS – Operator conducted casing and cementing activities that failed to prevent pollution or diminution of fresh groundwater.
- 86 – CASING AND CEMENTING – DEFECTIVE CASING OR CEMENTING – Operator failed to report defect in a well that has defective, insufficient or improperly cemented casing to the Department within 24 hours of discovery. Operator failed to correct defect or failed to submit a plan to correct the defect for approval by the Department within 30 days.
- 73(a) – GENERAL PROVISION FOR WELL CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION – Operator failed to construct and operate the well in accordance with 25 Pa. Code Chapter 78 and ensure that the integrity of the well is maintained and health, safety, environment and property are protected.
- CSL 301 – PROHIBITION AGAINST DISCHARGE OF INDUSTRIAL WASTES – Industrial waste discharged into Waters of the Commonwealth.
- CSL 307(a) – INDUSTRIAL WASTE DISCHARGES – Industrial waste discharged, directly or indirectly, into Waters of the Commonwealth, without a permit, authorization, or contrary to rules and regulations of the Department.
- CSL 401 – PROHIBITION AGAINST OTHER POLLUTIONS – Discharged substance of any kind or character resulting in pollution of Waters of the Commonwealth.
- CSL 402(b) – POTENTIAL POLLUTION – Conducting an activity regulated by a permit issued pursuant to Section 402 of The Clean Streams Law to prevent the potential of pollution to waters of the Commonwealth without a permit or contrary to a permit issued under that authority by the Department.
- 81(a)2 – CASING AND CEMENTING – GENERAL PROVISIONS – Operator conducted casing and cementing activities that failed to prevent migration of gas or other fluids into sources of fresh groundwater.
NOT OUR FAULT
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.”
In other words, the water was already contaminated and it’s not our fault, something we have heard multiple times by multiple drilling companies.
RANGE RESOURCES RECORD
Since 2010, Range Resources has been cited over 470 times for violations on its sites. ( See Range Resources Compliance Report 2010-2015 ) Per the compliance report DEP has levied $3,213,249.00 in fines in that time period against Range Resources. Fines ranged from as little as $1,000 up to $75,000.
Wait what about the $4.15 million fine from 2014? Although the news media reported the fine, the dollar amount and further follow-up were not listed on the Range Resources Compliance Report for 2010-2015. The actual total is most likely closer to $7.36 million or more if other fines are also missing from the compliance report.
This makes one wonder how accurate and timely are these compliance reports.
FIRES CAREFULLY HIDDEN
Per the 2013 Annual Report compliance section:
It should also be noted that the number of violations as a result of DEP’s inspection efforts has been steadily decreasing over this same time period. The record suggests that DEP’s compliance initiatives and outreach to unconventional operators are working as compliance rates are improving.
Basing reports on incomplete and/or accurate data can lead to faulty conclusions. The report does use the weasel words of “…suggests that DEP’s compliance initiatives and outreach…” which gives plenty of wiggle room.
A bit further down the report states:
This represents a reduction of more than one half the number of violations during this four-year time frame. The number of enforcement actions has proportionally increased by percentage during this same time period. This suggests that although overall compliance by unconventional oil and gas operators has been improving, DEP has continued to vigorously pursue enforcement actions as warranted.
Again with the weasel word “suggests”.
According to the DEP the Harman Lewis Unit 1H began leaking in 2011 and is still leaking 4 years later and will continue to leak for who knows how much longer as Range Resources has not produced an acceptable plan to address it.
Does this meet the DEP statement of “DEP has continued to vigorously pursue enforcement actions as warranted.”?
How many other violations have been unresolved and on-going for years while DEP pats itself on the back?
According to ACT 13, a driller is only held responsible for the well 1 year after it is plugged, therefore assuming Range Resources eventually comes up with a plan, and follows through to properly plug the Harman Lewis Unit 1H any problems cropping up after that one year period becomes the property owner’s problem.
© 2015 by Dory Hippauf