Pennsylvania DEP Fines Equitrans Over $1 Million for Environmental Violations

Million dollars© Devonyu / Getty Images / Canva

PITTSBURGH, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently levied fines totaling $1,114,000 against Equitrans, L.P. The fines stem from air quality, waste, and oil and gas violations linked to an uncontrolled gas release incident at Equitrans’ Rager Mountain natural gas storage field and George L Reade 1 storage well in November 2022.

The incident, which occurred in Jackson Township, Cambria County, saw natural gas venting uncontrollably from the storage field over a span of two weeks, from November 6 to November 19. DEP’s immediate response involved a round-the-clock onsite presence for 15 days, alongside ongoing efforts throughout 2023 to investigate and oversee remediation activities.

Equitrans faced a $350,000 fine for air quality violations, the maximum penalty under the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act, and an additional $764,000 for breaches of the state’s oil, gas, and solid waste laws. Attempts to control the well’s unregulated discharge involved pumping fresh water and heavy brine into the well, leading to the spillage of 50-100 barrels of heavy brine onto the ground and into nearby water channels and wetlands, contravening the Solid Waste Management Act.

Despite initial resistance from Equitrans, evidenced by appeals against two compliance orders from DEP requiring corrective actions, the company has since complied with both orders and agreed to withdraw its appeals.

The environmental impact of the incident has been considerable. The gas leak, described by DEP personnel and the public as producing odors and noise comparable to a jet engine, resulted in the release of approximately 1.037 billion cubic feet of natural gas into the atmosphere. This release contributed significantly to air pollution, with about 223 tons of carbon dioxide and an alarming 27,040 tons of methane emitted. Methane, known for its potent greenhouse effect—over 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide—accounted for roughly 10 percent of Pennsylvania’s total recorded methane emissions in 2022.

Moreover, the incident led to the highest recorded volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions from any facility in the state’s oil and gas sector in 2022, totaling 106 tons. VOCs, which contribute to ozone formation, pose serious health risks, exacerbating respiratory conditions and other adverse health outcomes.

The uncontrolled gas release not only prompted immediate action from DEP but also led to a temporary flight restriction over the area, recommended by DEP and issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, underscoring the severity of the situation.

This incident highlights the critical need for stringent oversight and regulation of natural gas storage fields, which are primarily regulated at the federal level by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The substantial fines imposed on Equitrans serve as a stark reminder of the environmental and public health stakes involved in the energy sector, emphasizing the importance of compliance with environmental laws and regulations to prevent such incidents in the future.

As the DEP continues to monitor the environmental impacts of the incident, this case underscores the broader challenges of balancing energy production with environmental protection and public safety, a balance that remains crucial for Pennsylvania and beyond.

More information can be found in the Consent Assessment of Civil Penalty for the air quality violations and the Civil Penalty Assessment for the waste and oil and gas violations.

For the latest news on everything happening in Chester County and the surrounding area, be sure to follow MyChesCo on Google News and Microsoft Start.