The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued its largest fine ever against a gas drilling company.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. will have to pay nearly $1.1 million in fines, including $900,000 for contaminating private water wells in Bradford County, and $188,000 in a civil penalty from a tank fire in Avella, Washington County that injured three subcontractors.
The water well contamination fine is the largest single penalty the DEP has ever issued against an oil and gas company. The civil penalty of $188,000 was the highest it could assess under the Oil and Gas Act.
The fines were administered to enforce proper drilling regulations as opposition to Marcellus Shale drilling continues to build among environmental groups and residents living near drilling sites.
Improper well casing and cementing allowed natural gas to seep into groundwater and contaminate 16 families' private water wells. The DEP conducted an investigation of the Avella tank fire and determined that improper handling and management of 'condensate' – a wet gas only found in certain geologic areas – was to blame for the event.
While the DEP may have issued its largest fine thus far, it isn't the biggest payout related to Marcellus Shale drilling. In December 2010, the DEP announced a settlement with Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to pay $4.1 million to the residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania. Their private water wells were contaminated with methane gas. The company also agreed to pay the state $500,000.