Texas-based Range Resources has been fined $4.15 million – the largest fine of this kind so far – for environmental violations in Pennsylvania.
The company was fined for leaky storage pits that contained flowback and produced water. Flowback water is the water that was injected during the fracking stage, coming back to the surface. Apart from the fracking chemicals, it also usually contains total dissolved solids (TDS) i.e. metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials. Only about 5 to 20 per cent of the injected water returns to the surface as flowback water.
Produced water comes up to the surface throughout the process of shale gas exploration and sometimes also once the well has been completed. It is the water that is trapped in rock formations and released during the production process. It’s usually very saline and also contains other contaminants (TDS). Produced water comes up in much higher volumes than flowback water – about 10 to 300 per cent of the total injected water
In the case of Range Resources, one of the causes of the leakage seems to have been connected to the lining of the earthen pools. The company approached the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of its own volition with a plan to close older impoundments and upgrade others with new designs and specifications for the huge, lined earthen pools.
The company explained that it currently uses more advanced pools with thicker liners, elements between the liners and state-of-the-art leak detection systems, as opposed to the old single-liner pits the company used a decade ago. The new liners are also twice the thickness of the old ones.
Tony Gaudlip, the company’s director of civil engineering and construction, explained that the new system consists of multilayer liners with space between to collect leaking fluids and a detection system which if it finds any leaks, informs monitors and pumps the water out. If a leak reaches a certain rate, the pool must be emptied for repairs.
Range Resources issued as statement saying that “while the company is deeply disappointed that these violations occurred, Range is excited to implement newly established best practices and technologies that have been jointly developed with the DEP over the last several months and years,”
“These new practices go above and beyond more comprehensive landfill regulations and newly proposed oil and gas impoundment standards to prevent future issues and continue leading the nation in water recycling.”
Davitt Woodwell, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council said, “I commend Range for coming forward. And it appears DEP has taken this as an opportunity to leverage better standards.”
Not everybody, however, was convinced of Range Resources’ good intentions. State Rep.Jesse White, D-Cecil, told Pittsburgh Post Gazette the problems at the drilling reservoirs have been well known for a long time and DEP enforcement was long overdue.
“This action is about looking good, not doing good,” Mr. White said. “The DEP will try to spin this but the $4 million is just the price of doing business for Range.”
The consent order listed Range’s violations at various sites as:
- failing to submit building plans to the DEP for six of the impoundments,
- failing to contain spills of recycled water and fracking fluids at six impoundments,
- failing to control fracking fluid from flowing from a pipe, onto the ground and into a tributary of Brush Run, a state-designated High Quality stream, which resulted in harm to aquatic life,
- failing to contain approximately 400 barrels of used fracking fluids, which was released into the ground and a nearby stream, Dunkle Run,
John Poister, a DEP spokesman in the southwest district office in Pittsburgh, said the consent order “makes it plain that we were seeing a pattern and we were concerned.”
As a result of the company’s cooperation with DEP, Range Resources agreed to close five impoundments, upgrade further three and limit one to just fresh water. Range also must replace any contaminated soil and update DEP regularly on its progress.
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