Appalachian Basin

Administrative Error Helps Pa. Watershed

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently entered into a $1.75 million settlement agreement with a natural gas company for failure to keep proper water withdrawal records and for exceeding the amount of water withdrawn under an approved DEP Water Management Plan. Notably, however, the activities that prompted the settlement did not result in environmental harm.

According to DEP spokesman John Poister:

“This was not a case where they were taking millions and millions of extra gallons of water and not reporting it,” he said. “We were able to reconstruct their water use by going back and taking records from their contractors.

“(Range) had records. They just didn’t have them coordinated.”

It appears that the company, Range Resources, made some administrative errors when reporting daily maximum withdrawals and instantaneous withdrawal rates. Once Range noticed the errors, it contacted the DEP and worked with them to rectify the issue. As Range stated:

“The supervised withdrawals did not impact any water resources as all pass-by flows were protected, but in some instances exceeded permitted daily and instantaneous withdrawals.” (emphasis added)

DEP spokesman John Poister also confirmed that the DEP doesn’t believe any environmental damage came from the faulty records or occasional exceedances.

Part of the settlement deal is that Range must provide funding for a project to rehabilitate, expand, and operate the Hamilton Abandoned Mine Treatment System in Findley Township, Allegheny County. The enhancement project will be performed by the Washington County Conservation District, the Raccoon Creek Watershed Association, and the Independence Conservancy.

The Department of Environmental Protection’s most recent statewide assessment of surface water showed that the Raccoon Creek Watershed is Washington County’s biggest problem with drainage from abandoned coal mines. Range’s settlement will help rehabilitate this watershed, which would have otherwise come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

As John Ryder, DEP’s Director of Oil and Gas Operations stated:

“This innovative agreement does that directly by providing support for a local project that will improve our state’s waterways without the use of additional public funding.”

As the industry continues to work with state regulators Pennsylvania waterways are continuing to improve. Pennsylvania’s 2014 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report which was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed the Monongahela River which was previously classed as impaired, meets Pennsylvania’s water quality standards and has been removed from EPA’s impaired water list.

This is a perfect example of the industry working with regulators to fix an error. It also makes clear that the regulations in the Commonwealth are not just allowing industry to operate and create well-paying jobs for locals, but they are doing so – importantly – in a way that is protective of the environment.

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