Flowback Spill into Marshall County Creek Under Investigation

The State Journal
27 February 2013
By Pam Kasey

The state Department of Environmental Protection is investigating a Feb. 22 spill of hydraulic fracturing flowback to an unnamed tributary of Wheeling Creek in Marshall County.

It's not the first time DEP has had report of a spill of flowback — the chemical-laced, briny fluid that returns to the surface when a shale well is hydraulically fractured — into one of the state's waterways, but it's pretty rare.

"We haven't had this exact situation happen before, but there have been a couple of incidents in which flowback has gotten into a stream in the last couple of years," said DEP spokesperson Kathy Cosco.

A National Response Center incident report documents a call received at 4:41 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23 and says the incident occurred — or in this instance likely was discovered — at 9 p.m. the previous evening.

An estimated 8,000 barrels, or 336,000 gallons, of hydraulic fracturing flowback was released into an unnamed tributary, according to the report.

That initial estimate was revised downward, on further investigation by the company, to about 2,260 barrels, or about 95,000 gallons, Cosco said.

The release was stopped, according to NRC incident report's account from the caller, "by means of damming. The water level of the affected pit was taken down immediately and absorbents and booms were applied."

A DEP inspector was on-site on Saturday, according to Cosco.

As far as DEP understood so far on Wednesday, the release was from a lined, centralized wastewater pit — one located not on a wellpad but rather located centrally to serve activities on more than one wellpad.

The release was an overflow, not a breach or failure of the pit, and occurred because a valve was inadvertently opened that diverted part of a flow of fresh water intended for a fresh water impoundment into the wastewater pit.

The release was less than 3 percent of the pit's maximum capacity of about 3.7 million gallons.

DEP doesn't know how long the overflow went on before it was discovered.

The waste flowed across a Consol Energy mining property and into the tributary.

The DEP investigator took samples from the pit and from the creek and, although results had come back from the laboratory on Wednesday, DEP had not yet reviewed the results. Cosco did say that the samples were tested for "constituents associated with drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation."

The agency also did not have information on Wednesday about the volume of the spill in comparison with the size of the tributary.

No fish kill had been identified as of Wednesday.

Plans for monitoring and remediation have not yet been formulated.