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Range Resources to pay $4.15M fine, close old gas drilling impoundments

| Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, 2:48 p.m.
Range Resources Corp. workers pumped water out of the 15 million gallon Carter Impoundment this summer, with the company planning to clean and refill it for use in more drilling this fall.
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Range Resources Corp. workers pumped water out of the 15 million gallon Carter Impoundment this summer, with the company planning to clean and refill it for use in more drilling this fall.

Range Resources Corp. will pay the largest state fine levied against a Pennsylvania shale gas driller and close five drilling wastewater impoundments in Washington County because of leaks into soil and groundwater, officials said on Thursday.

The Fort Worth-based company signed an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection that requires paying a $4.15 million fine, closing the troubled facilities and rebuilding two impoundments using what regulators call “next generation” technology.

“There are two messages we are sending today. One is we take these kinds of situations very seriously and there are going to be consequences even when a company is a good corporate neighbor,” department Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo told the Tribune-Review. “And to the citizens, the message is we're going to handle these matters.”

Davitt Woodwell, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council said, “I commend Range for coming forward. And it appears DEP has taken this as an opportunity to leverage better standards.”

PEC has pushed for requiring thicker double liners in the holding pools.

Abruzzo said Range came to the department with a plan to close older impoundments and upgrade others with new designs and specifications for the huge, lined earthen pools. The department will push other companies to do the same.

“While the company is deeply disappointed that these violations occurred, Range is excited to implement newly established best practices and technologies that have been jointly developed with the DEP over the last several months and years,” the company said in a statement. “These new practices go above and beyond more comprehensive landfill regulations and newly proposed oil and gas impoundment standards to prevent future issues and continue leading the nation in water recycling.”

Wastewater from drilling operations contaminated soil and groundwater, mostly with chlorides – natural salts — from treated wastewater. DEP said it had no evidence any contaminants reached water wells.

Abruzzo called the fine “a big number” that Range officials did not protest. The department calculated it based on a formula of violations multiplied by days they occurred. DEP uses fines and permit fees to help pay for its oil and gas program.

“One of the variables is the duration and length of a problem. In this case, it would have been the continuing leakage. Each day we could show there was leakage added to the final number,” he said.

The impoundments set to close include two that DEP and the company said last month were under investigation: the Cecil 23 facility, once known as the Worstell Impoundment, in Cecil and the Yeager facility in Amwell, which Range began closing in the spring. The others set to close are: the Hopewell 11, also known as the Lowry Impoundment; the Hopewell 12, also called Bednarski; and the Kearns Impoundment.

Range will upgrade the Chartiers 16 or Carol Baker Impoundment in Chartiers and the John Day Impoundment in Amwell, another site that was under investigation for leaks. The Carter Impoundment in Mt. Pleasant will be limited to fresh water.

“It's no secret we've had some issues with some of the impoundments Range was utilizing,” Abruzzo said.

Cecil Supervisor Tom Casciola said residents will be glad to see Worstell close, mostly because of heavy truck traffic. He applauded Range.

“They are addressing it now and stepping up to the plate,” Casciola said. “Contamination is their worst fear.”

Range also must replace any contaminated soil and update DEP regularly on its progress.

The company said it has started using a new pond design that employs thicker liners, elements between the liners and state-of-the-art leak detection systems. Tony Gaudlip, the company's director of civil engineering and construction, said that a decade ago companies used a single liner half the thickness of today's standard to keep wastewater in a pit.

“Because we're using more water with centralized impounds, we've moved to a design that more closely resembles what you'd see at a landfill,” Gaudlip said, describing multilayer liners with space between to collect leaking fluids. A detection system will find any leaks, inform monitors and pump water out. If a leak reaches a certain rate, the pool must be emptied for repairs.

A leader at the advocacy group Clean Water Action said he was pleased with the large fine and move to improve the impoundments, but his group will push for a ban on the holding ponds, in favor of closed-pipe systems.

“This whole situation is the latest poster child for why we don't need upgraded leak detection systems and liners; we need to get rid of this system,” said Steve Hvozdovich, the group's Marcellus shale campaign coordinator.

There are 18 impoundments in Washington and Greene counties. DEP could not provide a statewide number.

“We want to move everyone to these next generation standards,” Abruzzo said.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com. Staff writer Jason Cato contributed to this report.

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