Appalachian shale gas producer EQT Corp. was assessed a $1.14 million fine by the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board for a leaky Tioga County well impoundment in 2012, smaller than the $4.5 million the state Department of Environmental Protection sought.
But the driller did not get all of what it wanted. EQT's contention that per-day fines should be levied only for the days the impoundment leaked, not the number of days waters were polluted, was shredded in the board's decision. The hearing board said EQT aggravated its case by continuing to use water in the impoundment pond to frack a well after the leak was discovered, rather than ceasing operations to investigate the leak.
"Despite the appearance of multiple seeps immediately downgradient of the impoundment and nearby monitoring well sampling results all showing an impact from gas well operations within yards of a pit filled with millions of gallons of impaired water, EQT inexplicably dragged its feet," the board wrote. "The fundamental reason why it took almost two weeks to empty the pit of fluids from above the liner was EQT's decision to store millions of gallons of impaired water on site in the first place."
The board fined EQT $10,000 per day for the 47 days from the leak's discovery to the abatement of flows from the pond, followed by reduced amounts for the three extra months it took EQT to excavate the pit and replace its leaky liner. It dispensed with the additional penalties the Department of Environmental Protection wanted for alleged water pollution over the past four years. (Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, Department of Environmental Protection v. EQT Production Co., No. 2014-140-CP-L)
EQT has not decided whether it will drop its parallel case fighting the department's original penalty proposal that is working its way through the Pennsylvania courts, a spokeswoman said May 30 after the hearing board's May 26 ruling.
When notified of the $4.5 million proposed fine, EQT sued in Commonwealth Court, the state's second-highest and the home to rulings on actions by state regulators, to get a ruling on how the law should be read. The department objected then, saying the company had not finished the administrative process with the Environmental Hearing Board.
The appellate court ruled 3-1 on December 29, 2015, that when the Department of Environmental Protection proposed such a large fine, EQT had the right to appeal directly to Commonwealth Court. (EQT Production Co. v. Department of Environmental Protection, 15 MAP 2015; J-67-2015)