Chesapeake informed of Maryland's intent to sue
Maryland intends to sue over the April 19 Chesapeake gas well incident in Leroy Township in which hydraulic fracturing fluid was released into the environment, according to the Maryland Attorney General.
A news release on Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's website notes that he has sent a letter to Chesapeake Energy Corporation and its affiliates. It informs the companies of the State of Maryland's intent to sue for violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA), according to the news release. The attorney general claimed the company endangered the health of citizens and the environment.
Providing background on the incident, the news release reads, "On April 19, thousands of gallons of fracking fluids were released from a well owned and operated by Chesapeake Energy into Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which supplies 45 percent of the fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay."
Previously, it was reported that the incident began with an equipment failure at the drill site, causing hydraulic fracturing fluid to be released into the environment, including into Towanda Creek and an adjacent tributary. The cause of the equipment failure is undetermined at this time, according to Chesapeake.
According to the news release from the Maryland Attorney General, Gansler, in his letter, notified the company that at the close of the required 90-day notice period, the state intends to file a citizen suit and seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under RCRA for solid or hazardous waste contamination of soils and ground waters, and the surface waters and sediments of Towanda Creek and the Susquehanna River. Also, it noted that the state intends to seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under the CWA for violation of the CWA's prohibition on unpermitted pollution to waters of the United States.
When asked for comment, Chesapeake issued this statement attributed to Brian Grove, Senior Director - Corporate Development:
"Environmental testing conducted during the incident and since has shown limited and very localized environmental impact with no adverse affects on aquatic life in Towanda Creek. Furthermore, testing in the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, just a short distance downstream, has shown no effect whatsoever, i.e. the effects of the event were not detectable. Thus, we are confident that there will be zero impact hundreds of miles away. The Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay watershed face many environmental threats; this event is not one of them."
An April 20 Daily Summary Report from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director states that approximately 30,000 gallons of fresh water leaked out during the Leroy Township Chesapeake natural gas well incident April 19, but a state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official previously said the estimate "has no basis now."
"We do not know the total amount of fluid that spilled," said Daniel Spadoni, Community Relations Coordinator with DEP. "The 30,000 gallons was a very early estimate based on a DEP staff member's previous experience and has no basis now."
When asked to elaborate about the estimate having "no basis now," Spadoni replied, "It was not based on factual information."
Meanwhile, another DEP official confirmed recently that amphibians died as a result of the blowback incident at the Chesapeake natural gas well site in Leroy Township. This was in a pond rather than the creek, however.
Katherine Gresh, spokeswoman with DEP, said that, "In DEP's sampling of the farm pond, the unnamed tributary and Towanda Creek, the only evidence of impact to aquatic life was several amphibians (frogs and tadpoles) in the farm pond."
She explained that an unknown number of the amphibians died.
Gresh had stated, "The farm pond was very small and a pond, so unlike the diluted effect of the flowback fluid that made its way into the intermittent stream (unnamed tributary of Towanda Creek), the effect on the pond appears to have been different. The pond is owned by the gentleman who holds the lease for the well site."
The news release from the Maryland Attorney General called Chesapeake's containment "inadequate."
"Chesapeake Energy owns and operates numerous natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale, including the Atgas 2H well in Leroy Township in Bradford County, Pennsylvania," the news release reads. "At approximately 11:45 p.m. on April 19, 2011, essential components of the Atgas 2H well failed, causing tens of thousands of gallons of fracking fluids to be released. These fluids escaped Chesapeake Energy's inadequate containment, crossed over neighboring farm fields, and entered into Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which flows into Maryland."
The news release from the Maryland Attorney General continued:
"The Susquehanna River supplies drinking water for approximately 6.2 million people and sensitive fish populations like the American shad and striped bass are moving into the Susquehanna flats at this time of year. Exposure to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in unknown quantities creates a risk of imminent and substantial endangerment to humans using Pennsylvania and Maryland waterways for recreation and to the environment."
"Companies cannot expose citizens to dangerous chemicals that pose serious health risks to the environment and to public health," said Gansler in the news release. "We are using all resources available to hold Chesapeake Energy accountable for its actions."
Noting that natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale are extracted through a process of vertical and horizontal drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, "hydrofracking," or "fracking," the news release from the Maryland Attorney General stated: "Although the precise mixture of these fracking fluids is not known, a recent Congressional study found that they contain 750 chemicals and other components, including several extremely toxic compounds."
It continued, "High levels of these contaminants remain in the fracking fluid that returns to the surface as wastewater after a well has been hydrofracked. This wastewater, referred to as 'flowback water,' is then contained at the well site, either to be recycled or hauled away for disposal. Flowback water also contains high levels of radioactive materials. The New York Times has reported that both industry and EPA confidential studies indicate that these materials 'cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.' Radioactivity levels in Pennsylvania fracking wastewater have sometimes been thousands of times above the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water."
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.