Pa. DEP investigating liner leak at gas wastewater site in Washington County

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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 today that the gas-drilling company discovered the leak during an inspection and reported it to the DEP Wednesday.

Range has hired a consulting firm to help plan remediation work at the site, said John Poister, a DEP spokesman. He said there is no indication at this time that the 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 like the one that leaked are ponds built and used by the drilling industry to store either fresh water used in the hydraulic fracturing process that cracks the shale layer and releases gas, 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 chemical compounds and 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.”

But Mr. Poister said it may be fair to say, based on the salt deposits on the soil under the liner, that a leak occurred at some point in the past.

“But whether it happened yesterday or six months ago,” Mr. Poister said, “it’s still a leak.”

The DEP issued a dam permit to Range for the John Day impoundment in January 2010.

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. Anya Litvak alitvak@post-gazette.com contributed.

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