Pennsylvania Fines EQT $1.1M for Waste Pit Leakby Will Brackett
A Pennsylvania hearing board has fined EQT Corp. $1.1 million for a 2012 leak from a Marcellus Shale wastewater pit in Tioga County, significantly less than the $4.5 million in penalties that state regulators wanted for the breach they said caused the largest area of contamination in the oil and gas regulatory program’s history.
In a 4-1 decision issued Friday, the Environmental Hearing Board said the Downtown-based oil and gas company “caused severe harm” to state waters through its “reckless conduct” in violation of the Clean Streams Law.
But the board substantially reduced the final penalty because it said the company was highly cooperative in the cleanup after an initial six-week period when EQT’s response to signs of a leak was “completely unacceptable.”
The board’s penalty calculation was not ultimately influenced by a January Commonwealth Court decision related to the same leak, which limited fines to days when pollution is actively released into waterways. The Department of Environmental Protection has appealed that decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The hearing board majority, in an opinion written by Judge Bernard A. Labuskes Jr., said it did not know whether or not it was bound by the higher court’s opinion, but the judges said they did not need to resolve the issue because they chose not to impose any penalty for days after EQT removed most of the contaminated rock and soil beneath the 5.2-million-gallon pit’s damaged synthetic liner.
An EQT spokeswoman said the company is reviewing the opinion. DEP press secretary Neil Shader said the department is pleased with the outcome of the case.