HARRISBURG, PA — Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that Southeast Directional Drilling, a subcontractor of National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation, pleaded guilty Friday to polluting an Unnamed Tributary to St. Patrick’s Run as well as groundwater in the area of Route 22 near 121 Campbell Road, Bulger, PA during the installation of transmission lines, which were intended to transport natural gas.
“Thanks to the hard work of our environmental crimes section, this company is being held accountable for polluting our waterways and contaminating the drinking water of residents in Washington County,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “However, this is yet again an example where the consequences of these crimes are not steep enough in Pennsylvania. I’m once again calling on the legislature to strengthen state law so we can better protect Pennsylvanians from companies who willingly put profit ahead of public health.”
This Office of Attorney General assumed jurisdiction over this matter upon a referral from the Washington County District Attorney. It was investigated with the assistance of the 45th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury in Harrisburg, Pa. Evidence obtained by the Grand Jury revealed that a little more than a month into the horizontal directional drilling process, a small amount of drilling fluid was observed on the surface of the ground, indicating an inadvertent return. Instead of stopping the drill and dealing with the issue, the decision was made to ignore it.
Employees of the subcontractor, Southeast Directional Drilling, testified before the Grand Jury that their supervisors told them to “[pretend] they didn’t see it, more or less.” Employees also testified that when these spills occurred on other sites, “it is common within the industry to ‘look the other way’” and not report the incidents. They were directed to hide these incidents from the project’s daily reports. The inadvertent return that surfaced on that day subsequently grew much larger and led to the contamination of local drinking water wells and an Unnamed Tributary of St. Patrick’s Run.
Under Attorney General Shapiro’s leadership, the Office of Attorney General environmental crimes section has charged 20 companies and 29 individuals for violating Pennsylvania laws.
Southeast Directional Drilling pleaded guilty to one count of violation of the Clean Streams Law: Unlawful Conduct, one count of violation of the Clean Streams Law: Prohibition Against Discharge of Industrial Waste, and to one count of violation of the Clean Streams Law: Prohibition Against Pollution at the Washington County Courthouse and was issued a fine in the amount of $15,000, payable to the Clean Water Fund. This case was prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Franz.
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