Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP seeks record fine against gas driller as AG files criminal charges

Pennsylvania regulators are seeking a record $4.5 million fine against EQT Corp. for a major leak from an impoundment pond in Tioga County, the Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday in a news release. The announcement comes one week after the state Attorney General’s office filed criminal charges against the company for the same incident.

In May 2012, EQT estimates between 300 and 500 gallons of “flowback fluid” – the liquid that comes back out of the ground after a well has been fracked – seeped out of an impoundment pond at a well site in Duncan Township. Flowback contains high levels of salts, heavy metals and some naturally occurring radioactive materials.

DEP inspectors found the fluid had polluted soil, as well as nearby groundwater seeps and waterways – including Rock Run, a high quality, wild trout stream. Trees and shrubs along the path of the spill were also damaged.

EQT “has not been cooperative”

According to the DEP, the impoundment was supposed to contain six million gallons of fresh water. Instead, the agency says EQT used the pit to store flowback without a permission from the department and without the required safeguards to prevent leaks.

Acting Secretary Dana Aunkst said in a statement the company “has not been cooperative” during the state’s investigation. The agency has filed a complaint with the state Environmental Hearing Board, alleging EQT violated Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law.

The $4.5 million fine the DEP is seeking would be the largest the state has levied against a gas driller. Range Resources recently agreed to pay $4.15 million for violations at six impoundments in Washington County.

In a statement, EQT general counsel Lewis Gardner called the penalty “exorbitant” and “designed for more headlines than the lawful enforcement of the Commonwealth’s environmental statutes.” Last month, the company challenged the DEP in court over its interpretation of the Clean Streams Law.

“It’s a little overdue”

In a separate complaint filed by the Attorney General’s office on Sept. 30, EQT faces six misdemeanor charges for polluting and disturbing waterways. The office is acting on behalf of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Gardner said the company hopes to come to a settlement with the commission.

It is the second time Attorney General Kathleen Kane has brought charges against a shale gas driller in as many years. Her office filed a criminal complaint against Exxon-Mobile subsidiary, XTO Energy last fall.

Mary Greene is a senior managing attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project, which had been urging the state to take action since the spring.

“I think it’s a little overdue,” she said, “But I’m very encouraged that it’s happening.”

Read the criminal complaint filed by Kane’s office here:


  • John Moyer

    The oil & gas industry has never protected you.

    • imforit

      My question is where will the state spend this money? For industry related grants which in turn would encourage more drilling? It would never occur to anyone in Harrisburg to put that money towards scientific studies that could prove health related problems as well as what might happen in future years because of water related pollution. The results would prove to be a deterrent to the drilling industry and we couldn’t have that, now could we? Who is looking out for the residents living in drilling areas?

      • Victoria Switzer

        right, the gas industry permits to plunder and the bribes to continue operating go for more gas adventures! Ah, could we please think outside the rig for a moment? HEALTH AND SAFETY!!!!

  • Jack Wolf

    Fines are good, but they need to get their climate change producing, groundwater polluting product out of Pennsylvania. Attend the Global Frackdown this weekend.

  • Julieann Wozniak

    PayDEP is off to a start, but they have a long way to go before they earn the peoples’ trust. They’ve been licking the boots of polluters for far too long.

  • paulroden

    Maybe they could hire some more DEP Inspectors and allow them to enforce the existing regulations and fine these environmental criminals. Now the findings of any well pad inspection have to go directly to the Governors office for any further action. The DEP has to go along way to change their image as the “Don’t Expect Protection” department and fulfill the PA Governments Constitutional obligation to protect and preserve the environment. Banning fracking is the only way to stop the risk from fracking. Fracking is too dangerous, too expensive and totally unnecessary for our energy needs. Or maybe this fine money could go to the Department of Health to conduct a health impact study on fracking or the radon in the fracked gas. The DOH has a long way to go also to change its reputation as the “Don’t Offer Help” department. Or finally how about the DCNR or the “Department of Consuming or Consumable Natural Resources” to protect our State Parks and Forests from the impact of fracking in those state owned lands? The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is also not living up to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of PA to protect our State Parks, State Forests and other natural resources because Governor Corporate has ordered them to lease the state owned land to the gas drillers.

  • Lisa DeSantis

    If the oil/gas Industry does it right, DEP gets money, if the Industry does it wrong it gets a lot more money. WIN-WIN for the DEP!

  • JimBarth

    Kathy Kane better watch herself, or the PA tropper spies for the shale gas extraction industry will be knocking on her door to ask questions! PA Homeland Security will be tapping her phones, and, private security firms hired by the industry will be following her every move. PA, except for the AG and the Auditor, have descended into the darkness. Thank goodness for the AG and the Auditor. Please PA, say goodbye to Corbett the criminal.

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