WHEELING - Facing 27 counts of violating the federal Clean Water Act at 27 separate locations in West Virginia, including eight in Wetzel County and six in Marshall County, Chesapeake Appalachia will pay $9.7 million worth of fines and environmental restoration costs.
Chesapeake Appalachia is the local operating division of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy, the second-largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. The company is the most active among several working in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle - and is the only fracker with active operations in Ohio, Brooke and Hancock counties.
"Wetlands and streams serve important roles in the aquatic ecosystem by supporting aquatic life and wildlife. Wetlands also play a valuable role in recharging our groundwater and drinking supplies, and reducing flood risks," said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin Thursday in announcing the agreement. "This case sends a clear message that EPA and other federal and state regulatory agencies will do what is necessary to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act and to protect these valuable resources and the health of our communities."
Under the terms of the agreement, Chesapeake will spend an EPA-estimated $6.5 million to restore the 27 damaged sites, while it will also pay a civil penalty of $3.2 million. The settlement also resolves alleged violations of state law brought by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, so Mountain State regulators will receive half of the civil penalty, according to the EPA.
Last year, Chesapeake pleaded guilty to discharging crushed stone and gravel into Blake Fork, while removing a waterfall, to create a roadway to improve access to a drilling site in late 2008. For this, the company had to pay a $600,000 penalty and serve two years of probation.
Blake Fork and three other streams affected by Chesapeake's drilling activities are tributaries of Fish Creek, which flows into the Ohio River. The waterfall at Blake Fork has since been restored at Chesapeake's expense, but the site is one of the 27 for which the company agreed to pay for on Thursday.
According to the federal complaint, the EPA charged Chesapeake with violations at the following sites in Wetzel County: Blake Fork, Lynn Camp Run, the Durig impoundment, the Floyd Johnson well pad, the Hohman impoundment, the Rine well pad, the Saber well pad and the Stansberry well pad.
Violations in Marshall County took place at these sites: the Buzzard impoundment, the Elson well pad, the Evick impoundment, the Pleasant Ridge compressor station, the Ray Baker pad, and at another unspecified site.
The West Virginia DEP initially cited Chesapeake for "pollution of the waters of the state" at the Ray Baker site in February 2011. Additional citations for, among other violations, creating an "imminent danger," at the site came in October 2011.
The remaining violations took place at multiple locations in Boone, Kanawha, Lewis, Mingo, Preston and Upshur counties. The government believes violations, in total, impacted approximately 2.2 miles of stream and more than three acres of wetlands.
The Clean Water Act specifically prohibits the discharge of any pollutant from a point source into the waters of the United States without a permit. Discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States are prohibited, unless authorized by a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Following the company's significant personnel layoffs this year, those seeking comment from Chesapeake are directed to Gordon Pennoyer, director of external communications at the corporate office in Oklahoma City.
"Chesapeake Appalachia LLC has reached a key milestone in the settlement process to resolve federal and state claims relating to surface construction activities that occurred in West Virginia prior to Nov. 2010," he said. "The company is fully committed to regulatory compliance, and is working with the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to restore the impacted sites."