Duke Lake to be Restored in $36M Settlement
Washington PA Observer Reporter
24 April 2013
WIND RIDGE – Duke Lake at Ryerson Station State Park, dry for
almost eight years, will be restored under an agreement announced
Wednesday between the state Department of Conservation and Natural
Resources and Consol Energy Inc.
“It’s been a long time; we recognize it’s been a long time since
2005 when the lake was drawn down,” DCNR Secretary Richard J.
Allan said at a news conference Wednesday at the park office. “I’m
very happy to report we have a resolution and we will be
rebuilding the dam and restoring the lake as soon as possible.”
Allan said the department hopes to have the lake restored by
Expanding cracks in the 45-year-old concrete dam at Ryerson forced
DCNR in July 2005 to drain the lake and remove part of the dam.
DCNR filed a claim against Consol, maintaining the damage was
caused by subsidence from Consol’s Bailey Mine, which was longwall
mining near the park.
The state Department of Environmental Protection investigated and
determined the damage was caused by mining. It ordered Consol to
restore the dam.
Consol, which denies its mining activities were to blame, appealed
DEP’s decision to the state Environmental Hearing Board, where the
case was scheduled for trial next month.
Much of the agreement announced Wednesday had been included in
recommendations made by Thomas A. Rutter, a mediator in the case,
who suggested Consol pay to restore the lake in return for being
able to drill for natural gas beneath the park, but only from
properties outside the park.
Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Consol will pay $36
million to replace the dam and will give DCNR eight parcels of
land it owns adjacent to the park containing 506 acres.
The $36 million will be adequate to complete all the work that
needs to be done, Allan said. The addition to park property of the
eight parcels will increase the size of the 1,164-acre park by 40
percent, he said.
The company will be able to drill for natural gas beneath the park
using horizontal drilling but only from well pads outside park
“There will be no activity, no impact to park property,” Allan
Consol will pay DCNR an 18 percent royalty for gas production from
the wells under the park after $13.7 million has been realized on
the wells by Consol. The royalty money will go into the state’s
Oil and Gas Lease Fund, which is used for conservation, recreation
and flood control.
The company also will be permitted to mine the coal it owns in the
eastern area of the park once it receives the required mining
permits, but it will be prohibited from mining under the dam or
lake. Consol will be required to monitor stream flows and ground
movement with DEP oversight, according to the agreement.
The company will, in addition, be prohibited from using water from
the park for drilling activities and will build a new maintenance
building for the park.
The agreement will end litigation before the state environmental
hearing board. Under the agreement, Consol admits no liability in
regard to damage to the dam.
Allan said restoration of the lake has remained a “top priority”
for Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration and internal work to prepare
for the dam’s replacement has never stopped. DCNR is seeking
permits for the new dam from DEP.
“Anything we can do to make this move as fast as possible, we will
do,” he said. “This is going to get done through everybody’s
efforts. We ask that you be patient with us going through the next
several years as we set everything back in place.”
Tommy Johnson, vice president of government affairs and public
relations for Consol, said serious discussion on resolving the
matter began about two years ago.
“We set aside who was wrong and who was right and agreed to chart
a new course,” Johnson said. “It has been a journey; we’ve had
some twists and turns, but here we are celebrating what is a
tremendous win for all of us.”
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said the settlement was a
good outcome and he thanked DCNR, the governor and the Duke Lake
Task Force, which was active in pushing for the dam’s replacement.
“We could have stretched this thing out forever in court battles,”
Solobay said. “(But we might) never have had the opportunity to
restore a natural gem that we have here in Greene County.” He
referred to the agreement as “triumph of collaboration over
Greene County Commissioner Chuck Morris spoke on behalf of his
fellow commissioners and Dave Coder on behalf of state Rep. Pam
Snyder, D-Jefferson, who was in session in the House.
Center for Coalfield Justice, which was an intervenor in the case
before the hearing board, said though it was pleased to hear the
lake will be restored, it was disappointed Consol was not taking
full responsibility for the damage.
“Not only is Consol shirking its full financial obligation for the
loss of Duke Lake, but it is poised to turn a profit in the
process by seemingly breaking the longstanding moratorium on shale
gas leasing in state parks,” it said in a release.
In a question-and-answer session, Allan was asked about whether
the executive order establishing a moratorium on drilling in state
parks would prohibit drilling beneath Ryerson. Allan said ‘no’ in
that the moratorium only prohibits drilling activities on park
Asked whether the new dam could be damaged by additional mining in
the park, Johnson said the dam will be designed with energy
development in mind.
“The threat or risk of future Ryerson issues are slim to none,” he
Consol senior counsel Stan Geary later said the area the company
still has to mine in the eastern section of the park is about
one-quarter of the park’s existing size.
Asked how many wells would be drilled surrounding the parks, Geary
said the company’s gas division is developing a drilling plan that
should be completed by the end of the year. He also noted that any
of the eight parcels that will not be used for drilling will be
deeded to DCNR at that time.