Chevron Assessing Damage of Washington Co. Well Leak

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
28 February 2012
By Don Hopey

A leaking 2-inch pipe carrying oily condensates from a fracking operation at a Chevron-Appalachia Marcellus Shale well in Robinson, Washington County, has become a much bigger problem than the company and state regulators thought when it was discovered 10 weeks ago.

The leak from a faulty pipe joint weld buried 4 feet under the well pad was discovered by the company and reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection on Dec. 20. At the time, Chevron thought it had spilled about two barrels, or about 100 gallons, and told the DEP it was a minor incident and under control.

But the DEP said Chevron now estimates that as much as 80 barrels, or 4,000 gallons, of condensate -- also known as "wet gas" -- leaked from the pipe between Nov. 8, when the well fracking began, and its discovery 42 days later.

"We're still in the process of assessing the damage caused by this leak," Trip Oliver, a Chevron spokesman, said Monday. "When you have a leak in an underground condensate line, the assessment is not as simple as if the leak was above ground. We've been remediating the site since it was first discovered in December."

John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said the leaking pipe's location, buried instead of above ground where a leak could have been more quickly discovered and fixed, will be part of the department's ongoing investigation, which he described as "still in the early stages." No notices of violation have been issued.

Mr. Poister said at least 1,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil has been dug up on the well pad, and the company has indicated that condensate contamination has spread off the well pad onto adjacent areas of the site property.

"So far, 113 [Dumpsters] have been filled with soil removed from the well site," Mr. Poister said in an email response to questions. "Condensate has been detected off the well pad within the surface waters below the site."

Mr. Poister said containment booms, hay bales and absorbent pads have been deployed around the site to corral and soak up the contaminated water and the DEP has taken soil and water samples. He said the department doesn't know yet if any condensate found its way into Bigger Run Creek, a tributary of Raccoon Creek.

In response to concerns from three nearby residents, Mr. Poister said the department has recommended that Chevron contact them and test well water supplies. He said there is no indication that private well supplies have been contaminated.

Mr. Oliver said the company is developing a final remediation plan, due to the DEP by the end of this week, and "sampling will be a part of that." The company has drilled at least 15 borings to depths between 6 and 12 feet and hired a consultant to help determine the extent of the soil and water contamination.

Reports to and by the DEP a week ago that a second leak had occurred at the well site were erroneous.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.