Appalachian Basin

The Leaking Impoundment That’s Not Leaking

*UPDATE*  (Apr. 11, 2013; 12:30 p.m. ET):  After a number of comments asking for an updated article with the correct information regarding the Cecil impoundment the editor has done just that. Gillooly has updated her article and posted this comment addressing the changes –

I spoke with DEP spokesman John Poisture this afternoon. He indicated that he got further information Friday afternoon (after the publication of this story) to indicate that the incident at the Worstell site involved a storage tank with a faulty valve. About 30 gallons of recycled waste water escaped. I have included an editor’s note explaining the clarification, and added that information into the story, as well. Additionally, I omitted “leaking” from the headline. – Amanda Gillooly

Gillooly’s article, unfortunately, still suggests the township was never notified about the impoundment.  One only needs to follow the timeline provided, and letters to the township from Range, to see this is incorrect.

– Original post, Apr 8, 2013 –

A recent article in the Canon-McMillan Patch suggests a Cecil Township impoundment used to store Marcellus water was leaking, which is not true.  What really happened demonstrates industry procedures and state oversight worked exactly as intended in the case of what was a very minor incident.  

Friday morning, I received a phone call from a concerned landowner in Cecil Township.  She asked me about an article posted on the Canon-McMillan Patch website by editor Amanda Gillooly entitled, Leaking Range Resources ‘Dumping Ground’ Irks Cecil Township Officials.  The landowner was worried about her land because she lives close to the Worstell impoundment, which is referenced in the Patch article.

Reading the article, a couple of things were immediately apparent. The incident was greatly exaggerated and what was reported was pure misinformation.  After getting the correct information and calling the landowner back, I thought it would be good to address the matter here to set the record straight.

History of The Worstell Impoundment

First, let’s understand the history of the Worstell impoundment. Here is a regulatory timeline going back to when the Worstell impoundment was just a thought.  As you can see, the impoundment was first used during the hydraulic fracturing process to hold fresh water.  Range Resources applied for an ESCGP-1 permit for a freshwater impoundment located in Cecil Township, Washington County.

The permit was for earth disturbance associated with oil and gas exploration and Range followed all required regulations, including the Pennsylvania Act 14 notification procedures.  Act 14 notifications are required notifications to the municipality (and/or county) of a development so they can submit comments or objections to the development during the 30 days allocated by the Department of Environmental Protection. The permit application, sent to the attention of the board of Supervisors for Cecil Township, even includes a delivery signature showing Cecil Township did receive the notification and was, therefore, well aware of the impoundment.

The Worstell impoundment was approved by DEP on May 13, 2010.  Subsequently, on June 22, 2010, and again following Act 14 notification process, Range sent another notification to Cecil Township regarding a dam permit requested for the Worstell site, which was also sent via certified mail to the board of Cecil Township Supervisors.  Range also sent a notice to Washington County Commissioners about their intentions and, on July 13th, submitted the permit to the DEP.

This permit ensures that the company meets all of the prescriptive regulatory requirements for constructing such a facility in Pennsylvania. This permit specifically allowed Range to use the Worstell site to store flowback fluid.  Here is the actual dam permit application: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

A review of the timeline shows Range used the Worstell site for exactly what it was permitted to use at any given time. Range introduced fresh waster into the impoundment on September 1, 2010, and once DEP had approved the dam permit, it began using the Worstell site to hold water that flowed directly from a well or water that has been recycled.  In either case, the water is not permanently stored at the impoundment, but it is held there until it is reused in a future well.

Two years later, on November 29, 2012, Range submitted a modification request for the site.  The modification was limited to paving the access road, which was intended to address dust and gravel issues that had been raised by the township.

The Patch’s Version of Events

Now, let’s review Patch’s perspective and compare the writer’s interpretation to the facts.

Range Resources has built an impoundment in Cecil Township that “has basically become a dumping ground” — and Supervisor Andy Schrader said the board didn’t know much about it until after the construction was already completed.

“We didn’t know about it,” he said. “By the time I found out about it, it was too late.”

Once again, the Cecil Township Board of Supervisors was sent a notice on June, 22, 2010, indicating Range had applied for a permit allowing the company to use the site to hold flowback or recycled water. Maybe someone isn’t reading the mail at Cecil Township?

In any event, the possibility that this particular supervisor might have an opinion at odds with the facts seems to have escaped the Patch entirely, which instead gave that version of events an unchallenged forum:

That’s why supervisors sent a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection in November telling them about concerns over the site—especially in light of information that Range Resources is planning a major modification there.

The letter sent by the township was in response to a notice received about those modifications from the DEP.

Here is the letter Cecil Township sent to the DEP.  It is dated January 2, 2013, at which point the Worstell site had been used for three years.  Moreover, the “major modification” the township opposes is the paving of the access road into the site, which hardly constitutes a new land development as the township letter implies.  Here is a letter sent from Range refuting the claims made by Cecil Township that effectively answers all objections.

The Patch article continued:

Another potential concern, township officials said, was a sign-in sheet for a DEP meeting that took place on Sept. 26, 2012. The sheet shows that the meeting included some of the top brass from both the department and Range Resources.

But the township was never made aware of the meeting, and officials wonder what prompted the get-together.

The meeting that took place on September 26, 2012 was a regular compliance meeting that took place between Range and the DEP.  These meetings are intended to regularly review daily operations to ensure natural gas companies continue to operate in a safe manner.  They are a continuing part of normal DEP oversight. And since we now know that Range had secured all necessary permits and complied with local notification requirements, contrary to Patch’s manufactured version of events, this sort of meeting should clearly be viewed as a routine matter, not some sort of backroom conspiracy.

Whoever the “top brass” were, it nonetheless demonstrates the seriousness with which both Range and DEP take their responsibilities for regulatory compliance in day to day operations. The DEP also stated they discussed a variety of matters related to Range’s operations. This sort of collaboration has led to improvements recently discussed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, which found Range to have a very high level of regulatory compliance.

Why, exactly, is that a bad thing?

The “Leak”

As for the “leak,” here’s Gillooly’s take:

Reached Thursday, DEP Spokesman John Poister confirmed that the log-in sheet was for a compliance meeting set up between the department and Range Resources to discuss various violations at several sites—but not the Worstell impoundment.

However, Poister said that in an informal discussion before the compliance meeting started, the department and Range discussed a leak at the Worstell site, as well as the installation of a monitoring well to address the leak.

There are a number of things wrong with this account, beginning with the fact that there was and is no leak from the impoundment.  A phone call to DEP spokesman John Poister indicates what the actual “leak” was (emphasis added):

We did have a leak, but it is not a leak from the impoundment, it was leak from a waste tank with a faulty valve.  This faulty valve caused 30 gallons of flowback water to spill onto the site.  The water was contained by the gravel base located on the site.  Range reported the incident to the DEP on November 6, 2012.  The gravel was removed and DEP went to the site to test the soil and drinking water well near the spill to ensure nothing came into contact with the environment. DEP found that nothing had.  This is all standard operating procedure.

The DEP was also made aware, that while the company was conducting regular inspection and maintenance of the location, the company made repairs to the top liner of the impoundment. The repair was made to a portion of the liner that was above the water level so there was no potential pathway for water to escape and companies have a second layer of linear beneath the first layer, so even if the repair was needed below the water level there is another liner for protection.

In terms of monitoring wells, they were constructed and placed during the original construction of the impoundment. The company went a step further and put a redundant drainage system on the site.  This system runs underneath the site so in an instance that anything  got past the double lined impoundment it would be guided to the drainage system and to holding so nothing ever comes in contact with the environment.  This was a best practice that Range utilized, which is currently required, but was not at that time required by the DEP.  The company was applying best practices and using monitoring wells to provide additional data indicating that groundwater is protected.
Source: John Poister, DEP
So there never was a leak from the Worstell impoundment, a direct contradiction to what Patch reported to all of its readers.  Yes, there was a small spill from a holding tank with a bad valve — but, as a result of Range’s best management practices combined with DEP oversight, the incident was minor and dealt with quickly and effectively.  While a spill of any sort is unacceptable, the locations are designed and engineered to ensure these sorts of human or mechanical errors have little or no impact. In this case, all of those permits the company obtained and regular compliance meetings with regulators paid off, because there was no environmental impact.
It was, unequivocally, anything but a “leaking impoundment” as the Patch left its readers to believe.


Reading Gillooly’s article in the Canon-McMillan Patch, it’s also apparent that there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding impoundments themselves. Here is the site plan for the Worstell impoundment.  According to Environmental Engineering Manager for Range Resources Appalachia, Glen D. Truzzi, P.E., the site was built to exceed DEP standards.

The Worstell impoundment is lined with two 40 mil liners, similar to what is used in a landfill.  According to John Poister at DEP, the company also has leak detection systems installed under the impoundment that are engineered to identify a leak and to channel the water to an under-drain, which then pumps the water back into the impoundment until a repair is made. The companies are notified electronically if this ever occurs — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those standards were not yet formally regulated in Pennsylvania in 2010, but Range utilized them anyway, as evidenced in their permitting drawings.

Even though the company has double liners comparable to what is found in a landfill and an underdrain to catch an unlikely leak, plus an electronic monitoring system and 24/7 on-site security supervisor, this location also has four monitoring wells that surround the site.  These monitoring wells are in place to alert the operator (Range Resources) it has not adversely impacted the groundwater.  According to John Poister, the Worstell impoundment was built with a leak detection system that runs under the entire site.  This is a best practice and one that is not even required by the DEP.

Worstell Impoundment

Worstell Impoundment

Looking at the pictures provided by Gillooly, we can see a red color on top of the water as well as ripples in the center of the impoundment.  The red color is caused by minerals that are naturally occurring in the water, which in this case is iron.  The ripples in the center of the impoundment are caused by aerators or water circulators similar to what you’d find in a man-made pond or swimming pool.  These aerators are an industry recommended best practice and serve to keep the water fresh and to keep bacteria from forming.

These aerating pumps, like everything else detailed in this post are also technologies and practices that Range has been speaking about and promoting publicly since 2010. Here is a presentation going over everything that goes into designing and maintaining these impoundments. In fact, Range made this presentation as part of Penn State University’s Marcellus Shale speaker’s series, which is aimed at landowners, non-governmental organizations, regulators, and township officials.

The facts, as one can plainly see,  do not support the Patch’s interpretation of events.  The story hinges upon a “leaky impoundment” that isn’t leaking and a supervisor’s claim to have never been notified about the impoundment, even though certified mail was sent prior to the beginning of operations, in full accordance with the law.

Nonetheless, readers can now see how a company developed a new technology in the field, worked alongside regulators to ensure the process worked, installed groundwater monitoring wells to enhance environmental safety, and helped to promote the practice as a required regulation.

Hopefully the Patch’s next “report” will more carefully analyze the facts and ask the kinds of critical questions that reporters should be asking instead of blindly running with the more convenient narrative.

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