Pennsylvania regulator: Range Resources’ John Day impoundment leak bigger than first thought; Range contaminated groundwater like Talisman did in BC

Range Resources’ John Day impoundment leak bigger than first thought by Don Hopey, June 11, 2014, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The “significant” leak discovered two months ago at Range Resources’ John Day waste water impoundment in Amwell Township, Washington County, was much bigger than first thought and now has contaminated groundwater in addition to soil.

The state Department of Environmental Protection now estimates that brine from Marcellus Shale gas drilling stored in the football-field-sized pond leaked undetected and contaminated about 15,000 tons of soil, or 650 triaxle truck loads.

In addition, the chloride that contaminated the soil also has been detected in one of the on-site groundwater monitoring wells.

“We thought from the beginning that it was a significant spill and contamination,’’ said John Poister, a DEP spokesman. ‘‘Much more soil is being removed than we originally thought.

“We’ve only found contamination in one of the groundwater wells, and it’s too early to say what the extent of the groundwater contamination is. But anytime you’re talking about groundwater contamination, that’s serious.”

He said the DEP has issued Range an open-ended notice for alleged violations of the state Clean Streams Law and Solid Waste Management Act, and additional citations are likely. He said 10,000 to 12,000 tons of the chloride-contaminated soil already had been dug up, loaded on trucks by Range’s subconrtractor, Weavertown Environmental, and taken to the Arden Landfill in Washington County. Although DEP records indicate the impoundment was used by Range to store wastewater from gas well development in 2012, Mr. Poister said no fracking chemicals or other chemical contamination had been detected in the groundwater. [Has Range fully disclosed what frac and drilling chemicals were used, so that the regulator knows what to test for?]

Range Resources did not respond to calls for comment Wednesday. When Range workers discovered and reported the contaminated soil in April as they were peeling up the torn plastic liner of the empty impoundment, a spokesman said it wasn’t due to a leak and blamed the darkened soil on it being an older impoundment. … Range received notices of violations from the DEP in February and August 2013 for erosion and sedimentation violations at the Day impoundment, but records do not indicate it paid any fines. [Emphasis added]

DEP: Jon Day impoundment contaminated groundwater, The leaking impoundment in Amwell Township also contaminated more soil than previously thought by Scott Beveridge, June 10, 2014,
State environmental regulators said a leak at the Jon Day impoundment contaminated groundwater with chloride as crews removed nearly 12,000 tons of soil from the Marcellus Shale drilling operation in Amwell Township. A monitor at the site found the contamination in the groundwater supply Friday, nearly two months after a tear in the impoundment’s 30-millimeter thick liner was discovered, state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister said.

“We really don’t know the extent of the groundwater contamination,” Poister said.

“This is a very unusual case,” Poister said. “It’s atypical.”

A file review of Jon Day impoundment records Tuesday morning at DEP’s regional office in Pittsburgh found regulators had initial concerns about the leak monitoring system when the company applied for an impoundment permit at the site in December 2009. A more detailed description of the leak detection plans were submitted by Range Resources a month later and approved by the DEP, the files show.

The leak detection system beneath the impoundment consisted of a 4-inch wide perforated pipe filled with gravel that would allow workers to view at an outflow point if there was a problem. However, Poister said inspectors since discovered the system was “crushed” at some point and the leak went straight into the ground and never funneled through the drain pipe.

That made it impossible for workers to “visually inspect” any water leaking from the impoundment and out of the pipe. Poister said that system malfunction is also making it difficult to determine when the tear in the liner occurred.

“We don’t really know if the leak detection system ever functioned,” Poister said Tuesday. “That’s been our biggest quarrel.”

Inspection records also raise questions if any other contaminants were released into the ground since the impoundment was used to store flowback wastewater from fracking as recently as March 2012, when nearby residents complained of an odor emanating from the site. Poister said DEP found only chloride in the soil and groundwater at this time, which would indicate the leak occurred while the impoundment was holding salty brine water.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the company is working closely with DEP to improve its leak monitoring systems at impoundments.

“We do not have concerns and will continue to safely manage this process,” Pitzarella said.

Poister said Range went “above and beyond” what state law required at the time of construction in 2009 because the company also included a groundwater monitoring system. However, the effectiveness of that system is also coming under scrutiny.

“We think there was also a problem with the groundwater monitoring system,” Poister said.

He said inspectors are “very concerned” about why both systems apparently malfunctioned. Poister could not estimate when the cleanup would be finished. He said Range likely faces a significant fine once the investigation into the leak is completed. When asked if DEP needs to tighten impoundment regulations, Poister said it will be up to state lawmakers to make those decisions. “It’s going to be a subject of conversation,” he said. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Talisman frackwater pit leaked for months, kept from public ]

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