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Marcellus shale drillers, Pa. settle 3 cases of fouling water supplies, pay $374K | TribLIVE.com
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Marcellus shale drillers, Pa. settle 3 cases of fouling water supplies, pay $374K

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A Marcellus shale gas well owned by Chesapeake Energy Corp. in Bradford County

Pennsylvania environmental regulators said Tuesday they have settled citations against three Marcellus shale gas drillers and collected a combined $374,000 for water pollution cases dating to 2011 and 2012.

The citations involved faulty wells or equipment fouling water supplies in Bradford, Lycoming and Tioga counties with methane, the nontoxic but explosive gas that companies pull in record amounts from shale deep below the ground.

In one case, drillers at a Royal Dutch Shell-owned site in Tioga County hit an abandoned gas well, sending water 40 feet into the air from a former government seismic monitoring point. State officials have cited that incident as evidence of the need to require companies to take more steps to map such old wells, part of rule changes for drillers that the Department of Environmental Protection has proposed.

The companies involved signed agreements to settle the cases in June and July and have paid their fines, the department said.

“These were complex and lengthy investigations that took a considerable amount of time to resolve, but the department was able to conclusively determine that methane gas from natural gas wells had migrated off-site and impacted private wells serving homes and hunting clubs,” John Ryder, director of district oil and gas operations for DEP, said in announcing the settlements.

The signed agreements indicate the companies — Shell, Chesapeake Energy and XTO Energy — installed treatment and monitoring systems at polluted water wells, fixed faulty gas well casings and other equipment, and in some cases replaced water supplies.

“At the time this event occurred, Shell Appalachia acted immediately by ceasing operations in the area and used extensive internal and external resources, as well as our technical expertise to investigate and respond to the situation,” said Kimberly Windon, a Houston-based spokeswoman for Shell, which paid $85,593 for the incident. “Safety of the community and minimizing impact on the environment were our first priorities. Response efforts included re-entering and replugging the (abandoned) well in accordance with modern regulatory standards and working diligently to remediate the private water supplies that were impacted.”

Fort Worth-based XTO paid $95,753 in fines for the 2011 incidents in Lycoming County that affected seven private water wells and caused gas to leak into two creeks.

“XTO has worked directly with the impacted residents since 2011 to ensure their safety and well-being,” spokeswoman Suann Guthrie said. “We will continue to work cooperatively with all local and state agencies, and residents in the area to assure them that our top priority is their safety and well-being.”

Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy, which paid $193,135 for gas that invaded four water wells and a watershed in Bradford County, declined to comment.

The DEP last year said that of 243 cases of water supplies fouled by gas drilling that it investigated during the past decade, about 100 involved methane in the water.

A DEP spokesman did not respond to a question about why the three cases announced this week took several years to settle. Gov. Tom Wolf appointed a new leader at the agency when he took office in January.

The department this year attempted to impose a record $8.9 million fine on Fort Worth-based Range Resources Corp. for gas in drinking wells that DEP says came from a gas well. Range says tests show it is not to blame for the gas and appealed the fine to the Environmental Hearing Board. That appeal is pending.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or [email protected].

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