What has been termed a "significant" leak of drilling waste water has occurred at Range Resources' John Day impoundment in Amwell Township, Washington County.
Lisa Kasianowitz, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, confirmed the gas-drilling company discovered the leak during an inspection and reported it to the DEP on Wednesday.
Range has hired a consulting firm to help plan remediation work at the site, John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said Friday. He said there is no indication at this time that leaked materials migrated through the soil and off the site, but an undetermined amount of contaminated soil will need to be dug up and removed.
Mr. Poister said a DEP inspector was on the scene, and the department expects to issue a notice of violation to the Fort Worth, Texas-based drilling firm Monday or Tuesday. A civil penalty may also be assessed.
Impoundments are big ponds built and used by drilling companies to store either fresh water used in the hydraulic fracturing process to crack the shale and release the gas it holds, or waste water that has returned to the surface after the "fracking" is completed and the well starts to produce gas.
The waste water contains a number of toxic chemicals and also picks up salts, chemical compounds and sometimes radiation underground.
According to Mr. Poister, who talked to the DEP inspector who visited the scene, Range workers were peeling up the single plastic liner in the already empty impoundment when they discovered a tear and soil underneath that was contaminated with "salts." He said there's no indication at this time that the leaked liquids contained radiation that found its way into the soil.
Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella this morning disputed the DEP contention that the liner had leaked. Mr. Pitzarella said contractors working on the impoundment noticed some darkened soil when they removed the liner and are "remediating" the situation.
"It's not a leak. The impoundment was empty and has been for some time," he said. "It's an older impoundment, and we were in the process of upgrading it.
"It's long been drained -- several months -- and has not been in use for some time."
Mr. Poister said it is fair to say, based on the salt deposits on the soil under the liner, that the leak occurred at some point in the past.
"But whether it happened yesterday or six months ago," he said, "it's still a leak."
The DEP issued a dam permit to Range for the John Day impoundment in January 2010.
The DEP began requiring a double liner as a permit condition for new impoundments in October 2010, but the John Day impoundment and 12 others permitted before that date were not required to install a second liner, Ms. Kasianowitz said.
According to DEP records, Range's John Day impoundment was issued a notice of violation in February 2013 for "failure to take all necessary measures to prevent spill. Inadequate diking, potential pollution." In August 2013, Range received another notice of violation for "failure to minimize accelerated erosion, implement and maintain an erosion and sedimentation plan, and maintenance of erosion and sedimentation controls." There is no indication in the records that Range was fined for either of those violations.
Just last week, Range was assessed a fine of $75,000 to the DEP for a July 2012 spill of 3,066 gallons of "manufactured brine" at its Cornwall Mountain Hunting Club Unit A well pad in Lewis Township, Lycoming County.
The DEP termed it a "significant spill," that found its way into a tributary of Trout Run, a high quality stream, and said Range failed to properly remediate it for almost a year. There was no evidence, according to the DEP, that Trout Run was contaminated.
The DEP said the company removed 1,294 tons of contaminated soil from the impacted area, which was properly disposed at the Wayne Township Landfill in Clinton County.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983. Anya Litvak contributed to this article.