DEP slaps Vantage Energy with massive fine for landslide and dumping

  • Susan Phillips

A Cabot Oil and Gas rig in Susquehanna County, which sits on one of the most productive "sweet spots" in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation.

Marcellus Shale gas rig.


Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined the Colorado-based Vantage Energy almost $1 million for more than a dozen violations of the state’s Clean Streams Law and the  Oil and Gas Act. The sanction stems from a landslide at the company’s Porter Street well site in Franklin Township, Greene County. But it turns out the landslide was just the start of the company’s violations. While checking on site remediation months later, DEP inspectors discovered a contractor dumped two truckloads of wastewater off the side of the damaged well site, further polluting two unnamed tributaries to Grimes Run.
“They dumped it down the side of the well pad, which undid what little work they did to correct the [original] problem,” said John Poister, from DEP’s Southwest Regional Office.
In a year of multi-million dollar fines handed down by DEP, this $999,900 fine, just $100 short of one million, still stands out as one of DEP’s largest for Marcellus Shale drillers.
“This points out just how serious the problems are at this well site,” said Poister.
Poister says the original landslide on January 16, 2014 took off a corner of the well pad, traveling forty feet downslope and landing on top of two unnamed streams. Although the company notified DEP of the incident, Poister says drilling continued without adequate remediation. During an inspection on March 19, two months after the incident, DEP employees documented how the landslide “continued to move and grow.”
To make matters worse, in mid-July Elite Well Services, a contractor for Vantage dumped 200 barrels of wastewater from another Vantage well onto the site of the landslide. According to the consent decree, it’s unclear what the waste water contained but “may have included recycled water, flowback, production fluids, brine, drilling muds, drill cuttings and/or other materials used and/or generated and/or produced during oil and gas drilling and production.”
“We determined that Vantage itself didn’t have strong oversight over what was happening at these sites,” said Poister. “They didn’t know what the contractors were doing. That lack of oversight not only contributed to the problems of no response (to the original landslide) but also the dumping of the material down the landslide area.”
But it didn’t end there.
“Then we discovered an access road that further blocked the streams,” said Poister.
After the landslide, the company had built a new access road without a permit, which included “temporary stream crossings” to the impacted tributaries.
In addition to the fines, Vantage Energy has to fully restore the streams and wetlands, and stabilize the well pad. The company will face further penalties if it doesn’t meet DEP’s deadlines.
In a statement Vantage Energy says it is working closely with DEP to remediate the site.

“Vantage Energy is deeply committed to across the board operational excellence, transparency and environmental compliance. We regret these isolated events, some that were related to legacy development projects that Vantage acquired, and are taking important proactive steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur again. Vantage has voluntarily entered into Consent Order and Agreement (COA) with DEP.”

Read the full consent order and agreement below:


 
This story has been updated with a response by Vantage Energy.

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