Texas-based Range Resources is facing a record fine of $8.9 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for not repairing a leaking gas well in Lycoming County. The penalty is the highest ever levied for a shale gas drilling-related environmental violation since the $4.15 million fine, also paid by Range, in Washington County, Oregon.
The Harman Lewis 1H well – which is about 2,100 feet from the nearest water well – was drilled in Moreland Township, Lycoming County, in north-central Pennsylvania, in February and March 2011 and hydraulically fractured that June.
As the portal PennLive reports, in 2013, the DEP issued a violation against Range for the leak, reportedly stemming from a defective cement casing at the well. Nearly two years later, the DEP issued another order calling the continued gas migration “unlawful conduct and a public nuisance.” It required that Range submit and implement a plan to address the problem. However, the solution suggested by Range Resources was rejected by the DEP when the company revealed its plans to bring the well online again.
State Environmental Secretary John Quigley said in a written statement that “(Range) has the responsibility to eliminate the gas migration that this poorly constructed well is causing. Refusing to make the necessary repairs to protect the public and the environment is not an option.”
Speaking to the local news portal Tribune-Review he added: “The essential message is that pollution of the waterways is not something we’re going to allow. This is basic well integrity, well drilling 101.”
Range Resources denied causing any environmental damage, claiming that 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.”
Methane gas can occur naturally and, in fact, often does in Pennsylvania. Speaking in an interview given to Shale Gas International, Bill Powers, the CEO and President of PixController – a producer of methane-detection equipment – explained:
“A lot of methane is naturally occurring, especially in some areas in the north-east of the United States. You have old abandoned wells that cause problems, you have migration from shale layers up into the aquifers that might be naturally occurring so there’s no way of proving of whether drilling for shale gas actually caused the problem.”
This is why baseline monitoring is essential. In a perfect world such monitoring should be carried out over a 12-month period as levels of methane vary with the seasons.
To support its assertion that the methane detected in water aquifers near the Harman Lewis 1H well is naturally occurring, Range Resources posted on its website a 2013 company report to DEP detailing tests by experts showing the well is not faulty and that the gas in the water wells did not come from the drill site.
However, Mr. Quigley said the DEP has analyzed the water contamination around Range’s well and determined the methane in the water is the same type found in the deep Marcellus Shale formation.
“We wouldn’t assess this severe penalty if we were not confident the well was the source of the pollution,” he said.
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