EPA Adds $84,500 Fine for Well Fire
19 October 19, 2012
By Sean D. Hamill
In a move that may be a first for the state during the Marcellus
Shale era, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday
announced it had fined Atlas Resources LLC $84,500 for a 2010 well
fire in Washington County -- the same well fire the state had
already fined Atlas $80,000 for last year.
Although the two government fines focused on different aspects of
the incident, John Poister, a Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection spokesman, said this appears to be the
first time a Marcellus Shale driller has been fined by both the
federal and state environmental departments for the same incident
He insisted that the state is not bothered by the EPA's action.
"The EPA is, after all, a federal agency and they are also
responsible for environmental oversight, so, it's within their
purview," he said. "I mean, our feelings aren't hurt."
Bonnie Smith, an EPA spokeswoman, said she would not talk about
the "strategy" of why the EPA decided to issue a fine in this one
accident among the hundreds that have occurred at Marcellus Shale
drill sites that also have resulted in state fines.
"There was a fire. We looked into it and investigated it and
issued this fine and action," she said.
But David Hess, former DEP secretary under Pennsylvania governors
Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker, and now a lobbyist for the
Pennsylvania Environmental Council, said it's pretty clear to him
why the EPA weighed in on this case: "This was a juicy target."
"It's a well-known case and [the EPA] has been looking at these
high-profile targets to come in and make a point of showing people
that the EPA has independent authority and they can come in here
and do enforcement," he said.
According to both the state and federal governments, the fire on
March 21, 2010, was sparked by a generator that ran mobile light
fixtures at the site. The spark ignited fumes from both liquid gas
products that had been collected in a pit and from condensate that
had been stored in an improperly sealed tank.
The ensuing fireball could be seen far and wide and was so intense
that the local fire department could do little but let it burn
itself out, said Kenneth McDougan, chief of the West Middletown
Fire Department, which responded.
When it fined Atlas $80,000 on Nov. 9, 2011, the state DEP said
the fine was for violations of state law that required permits for
the release of the flowback fluids that spilled onto the ground
and the loss of integrity of the liner to the flowback fluid pit
during the fire.
The federal EPA's $84,500 fine was for failure to properly store
the condensate and to properly notify the West Middletown Fire
Department of the large amount of hazardous chemicals that were
stored on site in 2008 and 2009.
Atlas would not answer questions about the case Thursday, except
to email a statement that said, in part, that it had "cooperated
with the EPA and worked with an independent consultant to improve
(environmental, health and safety) features on the site. Atlas has
also agreed to install additional equipment on the location to
further protect the environment."
Sean D. Hamill: email@example.com or 412-263-2579.