Range Resources’ John Day impoundment leak bigger than first thought

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The “significant” leak discovered two months ago at Range Resources’ John Day waste water impoundment in Amwell Township, Washington County, was much bigger than first thought and now has contaminated groundwater in addition to soil.

The state Department of Environmental Protection now estimates that brine from Marcellus Shale gas drilling stored in the football-field-sized pond leaked undetected and contaminated about 15,000 tons of soil, or 650 triaxle truck loads.

In addition, the chloride that contaminated the soil also has been detected in one of the on-site groundwater monitoring wells.

“We thought from the beginning that it was a significant spill and contamination,’’ said John Poister, a DEP spokesman. ‘‘Much more soil is being removed than we originally thought.

“We’ve only found contamination in one of the groundwater wells, and it’s too early to say what the extent of the groundwater contamination is. But anytime you’re talking about groundwater contamination, that’s serious.”

He said the DEP has issued Range an open-ended notice for alleged violations of the state Clean Streams Law and Solid Waste Management Act, and additional citations are likely. He said 10,000 to 12,000 tons of the chloride-contaminated soil already had been dug up, loaded on trucks by Range’s subconrtractor, Weavertown Environmental, and taken to the Arden Landfill in Washington County.

Although DEP records indicate the impoundment was used by Range to store wastewater from gas well development in 2012, Mr. Poister said no fracking chemicals or other chemical contamination had been detected in the groundwater.

Range Resources did not respond to calls for comment Wednesday. When Range workers discovered and reported the contaminated soil in April as they were peeling up the torn plastic liner of the empty impoundment, a spokesman said it wasn’t due to a leak and blamed the darkened soil on it being an older impoundment.

The DEP issued a permit for construction of the impoundment in January 2010.

Mr. Poister said DEP inspectors are at the impoundment remediation site daily to monitor the cleanup and investigate why the impoundment’s two leak-detection systems did not work.

State inspectors found that the one beneath the impoundment appeared to have been crushed and was non-functional, he said.

“At no time did the systems show water coming out during the time the impoundment was active,” he said. “It’s a problem we are investigating. We’ve seen such systems work elsewhere, but this has raised questions about leak-detection systems at other impoundments of this vintage and that were constructed in this manner.”

Range received notices of violations from the DEP in February and August 2013 for erosion and sedimentation violations at the Day impoundment, but records do not indicate it paid any fines.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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