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EPA holds oil and gas company accountable for violating Clean Water Act

Amy Mall

Posted December 26, 2013 in Health and the Environment, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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My previous blog post expressed outrage that the EPA chose to step away from enforcing the law when drinking water was unsafe in Texas, even when nearby natural gas operations were identified as the most probably cause.

Our concerns haven't changed but, in a different case, we applaud EPA for taking action to hold an oil and gas company responsible for damaging 27 streams and wetlands in West Virginia (including 16 fracking sites). Under a settlement agreement, Chesapeake Energy's subsidiary will spend an estimated $6.5 million to restore these 27 sites and to implement a comprehensive plan to comply with federal and state water protection laws at the company’s natural gas extraction sites in West Virginia. In addition, the company will pay a fine of $3.2 million, half of which will go to the State of West Virginia.

The settlement requires that the company fully restore the wetlands and streams wherever feasible, monitor the restored sites for up to ten years to assure the success of the restoration, and implement a comprehensive compliance program to ensure future compliance with the Clean Water Act and applicable state law. The company will also perform "compensatory mitigation" to try to offset impacts from its damage--this could include purchasing credits from a wetland mitigation bank located in a local watershed.

I visited one of the sites damaged by Chesapeake a few years ago, and my blog has a photo of the stream destruction. The company pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act at this site prior to this settlement agreement.

An obvious question is why did the EPA fully enforce the law at these sites in West Virginia, where streams and wetlands were damaged, but not in Parker County, Texas, where an underground source of drinking water is at stake?  We don't know the answer to that, and the IG report released earlier this week doesn't shed any real light.

It may be more straightforward for a regulator to investigate damage to streams and wetlands that are easily visible on the surface when compared to investigating impacts on underground sources of drinking water, but investigations of drinking water contamination are conducted on a regular basis.

Aquifer contamination near natural gas operations, however, requires regulators to consider the role that fracking may have played--the third rail of energy politics, subject to more intense criticism by industry. Neither one of these is a justifiable reason for a regulator to step away from investigating drinking water contamination. We urge the EPA to reopen its investigation of the contamination in Parker County, Texas, as well as in Dimock, Pennsylvania and Pavillion, Wyoming.

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Comments

Larry HDec 27 2013 02:51 PM

"An obvious question is why did the EPA fully enforce the law at these sites in West Virginia, where streams and wetlands were damaged, but not in Parker County, Texas, where an underground source of drinking water is at stake?"

Easy.

The actual fracking of the well appears to have been the culprit in Texas. As long as no enforcement takes place here, the industry and its government champions can continue to claim "fracking has never caused blah blah blah" where they narrowly define fracking to mean the actual drilling only, even though the public generally defines it as the entire process.

In WV, the culprit is unauthorized discharge of waste, so they can claim "rogue actors, not systemic, isolated blah blah blah".
Of course common sense dictates that without the fracking, you don't have the waste, therefore the WV mess was a result of fracking. But common sense has never gotten in the way of public relations spinning.

Ivano AgliettoDec 28 2013 08:38 PM

Environmental disasters such as the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico may unfortunately recur. Therefore, we should be ready to confront the turbulence with effective and eco-friendly solutions.
The technologies applied until now such as use of oil dispersants, recovering of oil with low efficient sorbents, skimmers and burning of surface oil are expensive and can cause severe environmental damages.
Nevertheless, a new advanced solutions is now available, thanks to the scientific progress in nanotechnology: NAIMOR.
Here is the link of the video of my crowdfunding campaign where I show this new technology:
http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/naimor-nanostructure-innovative-material-for-oil-recovery/x/3906831

Michael BerndtsonDec 30 2013 03:44 PM

Amy,
Here's my guess:

The West Virginia case seems to be mostly physical impacts of the watershed. The before and after is obvious, i.e. a well pad sitting in a swampy area when wasn't sitting there before.

Addressing groundwater based on chemical contamination leads to more confusion by professional confusers. Groundwater investigations can take 20 years and $20 million in consulting and legal fees to argue an impact zone in between two corner gas stations. In the case of fracking and groundwater, we're still told that there is no proof of any environmental damages, yet. Well, by the business press, general media and some NGOs at least. It's also an out of sight - out of mind thing.

However, aquifer over pumping in Texas is an issue with water rights and it looks like fracking is getting some push back by agriculture and residential. There's also a new PR campaign telling us that fracking is like totally cool with water usage and residential waste and coal is really the problem. I wonder if PR firms hired by oil and gas subcontract 13 year olds for advice on how to convince someone that the mess isn't theirs and even if it was someone else should clean it up.

Kathleen Jan 3 2014 11:36 AM

It seems to me that the fines discussed here are minute compared to the billions these companies are making by using Fracking to obtain natural gas . What is 3.2 million to these companies? Nothing! Just the cost of doing business. Then they are overseeing the restored sites?? That is like the fox overseeing the hen house. Also using "wherever feasible " is a huge loophole. The EPA needs to get serious and use its FULL power against these companies. These fines are a drop of water in huge polluted water system and just one of many. I do not know all the details but I do know fracking is destroying the land and water wherever it is done and all the politicians ( very many of them Democrats) sit back and let it happen. How much did that cost the companies?? Just another cost of doing business. I also heard this natural gas is to be sold to other countries. Not that it really matters. My state doesn't have large deposits of natural gas but a story I just read in the paper stars these companies want to dump their waste water here. Think how these companies can spin that.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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