The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has fined the natural gas driller CNX $310,000 for spills and landslides associated with a pipeline project in Washington County.
The fines are for violations along pipelines it built to carry natural gas and wastewater the company used in its fracking operations, the DEP said.
The spills happened between August 2016 and August 2018 in East Finley Township, according to a DEP consent order signed by the company, which names CNX Gas Company LLC, and CNX Midstream Partners, LP, the company’s pipeline subsidiary.
During construction, the company spilled 43 gallons of drilling mud into a stream, according to the consent order. The company also had two leaks, one of 630 gallons and another of 2,100 gallons of drilling brine — wastewater that contains high amounts of naturally occurring salts, as well as radioactive materials found in gas-rich shale beds.
The DEP found the spill killed vegetation and resulted in contamination of soil, a groundwater seep, and contamination of a nearby stream. The company removed contaminated soil and set up monitoring wells to detect pollutants of nearby groundwater. The company submitted soil samples showing levels of contaminants within thresholds the DEP considers safe.
In addition to spills, there were landslides along a hill where the pipeline was built, including one that temporarily destabilized the soil holding up a nearby gas well pad.
The consent agreement ordered the company to submit to an independent audit of its wastewater management practices, and to resubmit to the state its pollution contingency plans.
Recycling wastewater cuts down on the amount of fresh water companies use during fracking — when drillers push millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemicals, into shale and other rocks to extract oil and gas. It also cuts down on the amount of the drilling wastewater, considered by the state an “industrial waste,” that companies have to dispose.
“While utilizing reuse water in drilling operations is authorized by DEP’s regulations, the department holds operators to their obligation to use caution and implement safeguards to protect Pennsylvania communities and water resources,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement.
CNX has 60 days to complete the audit of its water management practices and 120 days to revise its pollution contingency plans.
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.