Chesapeake to Pay $600K Fine for Filling Wetzel Co. Stream
Company also on probation for two years
6 October 2012
By Casey Junkins, Staff Writer
WHEELING - By pleading guilty Friday, Chesapeake Appalachia must
pay a $600,000 fine for violating the federal Clean Water Act
during the company's natural gas drilling and fracking in Wetzel
"The defendant illegally filled at least three sensitive wetlands;
in one instance, obliterating a natural waterfall. This plea
agreement demonstrates that those who illegally fill in or destroy
these essential natural resources will be prosecuted," said David
McLeod Jr., special agent for the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's criminal enforcement program in West Virginia.
Chesapeake Appalachia is the local operating division of Oklahoma
City-based Chesapeake Energy. The company will pay $200,000 for
each of three separate violations from late-2008. These included
discharging 60 tons of crushed stone and gravel into Blake Fork in
rural Wetzel County, about 2.4 miles north of the intersection of
W.Va. 89, near Proctor. In doing so, the company removed a
waterfall to construct a road to facilitate its drilling and
Blake Fork and three other streams affected by Chesapeake's
drilling activities are tributaries of Fish Creek, which flows
into the Ohio River.
"Chesapeake Appalachia remains fully committed to regulatory
compliance and promptly instituted additional training and
oversight to help ensure that our regulatory obligations are met,"
the company said in a statement acknowledging the plea.
Working in cooperation with U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld and
his assistants, McLeod said his agency has been investigating
Chesapeake's Wetzel County actions for more than two years.
"This matter is the first Marcellus Shale related prosecution, and
one of only a handful of criminal investigations, under the U.S.
EPA's 2011 Energy Extraction Initiative. We will continue to
vigorously investigate allegations of illegal activities relating
to energy extraction in the mid-Atlantic states," McLeod said.
"Furthermore, this case will be the highest criminal penalty
relating to energy extraction, to date, should the agreed upon
penalty be so ordered."
Pending U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr.'s acceptance of
the plea agreement, the company will also receive two years of
court supervised probation. Ihlenfeld said Chesapeake as a whole -
rather than a specific individual - will be supervised during the
probation, noting it is not unusual for a company to be given
probation as a penalty.
Ihlenfeld and McLeod said Chesapeake is responsible because the
company: selected the location for an access road to a site
associated with its drilling activities; hired construction
contractors to discharge; spread rock and gravel in Blake Fork in
order to develop access to the Hohman Pit; and supervised and
directed the work of the construction contractors.
Even though the Blake Fork waterfall has since been restored at
Chesapeake's expense, Ihlenfeld said it is still vital to enforce
the Clean Water Act.
"You cannot rob a bank, bring the money back and say, 'Forgive
me,'" he said after the hearing. "Companies need to be held
accountable for violating the Clean Water Act."
"Our nation's wetlands play a critical role in maintaining water
quality, reducing flood damage, and providing habitat for fish and
wildlife," McLeod added when asked about the need to uphold the
The Clean Water Act specifically prohibits the discharge of any
pollutant from a point source into the waters of the United States
without a permit. Discharges of dredged or fill material into
waters of the United States are prohibited, unless authorized by a
permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Ihlenfeld said in this case, Chesapeake failed to obtain or even
apply for such a permit.
Additionally, the parties have agreed that separate violations
committed by Chesapeake in Marshall and Wetzel Counties would be
addressed by civil penalties and not via criminal charges.
"The events at Blake Fork were more egregious than the others -
that's why they were classified as criminal," McLeod said.
The other alleged violations still under EPA investigation to be
addressed with civil penalties are the impoundment of an unnamed
tributary to Laurel Run between January 2007 and December 2009;
constructing the Gordon Stansberry well pad took place about 2.2
miles north of W.Va. 89, near New Martinsville. This project also
included the burial of an underground pipeline; and building the
Chesapeake "B" well pad, along with the widening of Lynn Camp
Road, also located north of W.Va. 89.