DEP fines CNX for well failure near Westmoreland County reservoir
Pipe failed below ground; water quality unaffected
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined CNX $175,000 for allowing a gas well failure near a drinking water reservoir in Westmoreland County.
The DEP and the company concluded that a casing pipe inside the well ruptured about 5,000 feet below the surface of the Shaw 1G well on Jan. 26, 2019. The rupture sent gas and fracking fluids into nearby rock layers. The gas reached surrounding gas wells, said Lauren Fraley, a spokeswoman for the DEP.
“During that loss of pressure incident, gas was emitted uncontrollably into shallower geologic formations, and that resulted in communication with nine nearby conventional wells that saw some pressure changes during this incident,” Fraley said.
The company flared those surrounding wells for a week to relieve the extra pressure until it could contain the gas. Fraley said there were no spills or releases of fluids.
The well is near the Beaver Run Reservoir, which provides drinking water for 130,000 people. The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County conducted numerous tests after the failure and determined water in the reservoir was not affected.
The DEP says the company no longer uses the “high tensile” pipe it used at the Shaw well, and has retrofit other wells to prevent a similar accident.
The DEP cited the company for violating several environmental laws and regulations, including failing to use strong enough well casing, failing to maintain well integrity, and venting gas to the atmosphere.
Fraley said the DEP determined that the higher tensile casing was more susceptible to a type of stress cracking, and has shared this information with other gas companies.
Brian Aiello, a spokesman for CNX, said the company was “pleased” with the investigation and that the “collaborative nature of the investigation into this matter yielded results that will further continuous improvement and innovation in CNX’s operations and that of the entire industry.”
Local environmental groups criticized the DEP fine. The Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens Group said in a statement Friday the fine was inadequate to the danger posed by the well blowout and the air pollution caused by the company’s flaring activities.
“The penalty is miniscule compared to the serious harm to confidence in water quality for 130,000 people for whom reliable water is key to property values and public health,” the statement read.