DEP: Uncontrolled Venting of Natural Gas Lasted 2 Weeks

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

PENNSYLVANIA — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently issued three orders to Equitrans L.P. the gas storage operator of the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir and George L Reade 1 storage well located in Jackson Township, Cambria County that vented natural gas uncontrolled into the atmosphere from Sunday, November 6, 2022, until the evening of Saturday, November 19, 2022, when it was temporarily plugged.

DEP responded immediately to the well control emergency and maintained a 24/7 onsite presence for 15 days. Since then, DEP personnel have been on site almost daily responding to concerning conditions at other wells in the gas storage field. DEP has observed numerous violations and emergent incidents requiring the temporary plugging of two additional storage wells.

As part of its ongoing investigation of the incident, integrity of the storage field and 12 associated storage wells, and the volume of gas released, DEP has requested and subpoenaed a number documents from Equitrans. To date, DEP has not yet received all of the information it has directed Equitrans to provide.

“Based on what we’ve found thus far through the course of our investigation and the inadequate cooperation from Equitrans, DEP is compelled to order this operator to take immediate measures to prevent future incidents,” said DEP Acting Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Management Kurt Klapkowski. “The purpose of this order is to ensure the safe storage and deliverability of natural gas along with the protection of the environment and public health and safety.”

The administrative order issued on December 8, 2022, requires Equitrans to do the following:

  • Monitor all storage wells in the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir and surrounding soil for gas migration;
  • Mitigate and/or control gases coming or migrating from the storage wells;
  • Conduct mechanical integrity testing of each wells in the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir;
  • Submit a plan to recondition or plug wells that are not cased and cemented according to current Pennsylvania regulations;
  • Conduct a third-party audit of all storage wells, observation wells, and storage fields owned and/or operated by Equitrans in Pennsylvania;
  • Cease injection of natural gas into the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir until the audit has been completed and injection approved by DEP; and
  • Provide DEP with a plan and schedule to withdraw gas from the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir in the event that withdrawal becomes necessary in the future for DEP review.
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The order does not require Equitrans to conduct activities that would hinder the operator’s ability to provide natural gas to customers that supply gas to heat homes.

In addition to the administrative order, DEP issued compliance orders on December 7 and December 8, following field inspections of the George L Reade 1 storage well and adjacent areas on December 1 and 7, 2022, during which DEP cited numerous violations related to the uncontrolled release of brine and improper erosion and sediment (E&S) control of the site.

Equitrans is ordered to hire an environmental remediation consultant, submit a remediation plan for DEP approval, and work to investigate, delineate, and remediate areas contaminated by the brine released during the well control incident.

Equitrans is also ordered to immediately cease all earth disturbance activities and all sediment pollution and potential pollution to waters of the commonwealth, implement E&S best management practices, temporarily stabilize disturbed areas, submit an E&S control plan, and submit a written proposal to repair or mitigate any aquatic impacts resulting from its earth disturbance activities related to the delineation and remediation.

DEP inspections and investigations related to the two compliance orders are ongoing.

DEP’s investigations into the well control incident and all wells at the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir are ongoing, and DEP will take additional enforcement action as necessary. These orders issued by DEP thus far are immediate and necessary actions of DEP to abate ongoing and imminent threats to heath, safety, and the environment, which is DEP’s primary focus at this time. As with all DEP enforcement actions, DEP will consider the assessment of any potential civil penalties once threats are no longer imminent.

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Along with specific focus on these incidents, DEP is simultaneously evaluating Equtrans’ storage fields for compliance with Pennsylvania’s laws, regulations, policies and procedures related to natural gas storage fields which may also be congruently regulated by multiple state and federal agencies.

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