Equitrans Fined Over $1 Million for Environmental Violations by Pennsylvania DEP

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently fined Equitrans, L.P. a total of $1,114,000. The fines are a result of violations related to air quality, waste, and oil and gas. These violations occurred during an incident where gas was released without control at Equitrans’ Rager Mountain natural gas storage field and George L Reade 1 storage well in November 2022.

In Jackson Township, Cambria County, there was an incident where natural gas was released uncontrollably from a storage field for two weeks, from November 6 to November 19. The DEP responded quickly and had a team on-site 24/7 for 15 days. They also continued their efforts in 2023 to investigate and supervise the cleanup activities.

Equitrans was fined $350,000 for breaking air quality rules, which is the highest penalty allowed by the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act. They also had to pay an extra $764,000 for violating the state’s laws on oil, gas, and solid waste. Efforts to control the unregulated discharge from the well included pumping fresh water and heavy brine into it. Unfortunately, this caused 50-100 barrels of heavy brine to spill onto the ground and into nearby water channels and wetlands. This action goes against the Solid Waste Management Act. Equitrans initially resisted the compliance orders from DEP, but eventually complied with both orders and agreed to withdraw its appeals.

The incident has had a significant impact on the environment. The gas leak was described by DEP personnel and the public as producing strong odors and loud noise, similar to a jet engine. It resulted in the release of about 1.037 billion cubic feet of natural gas into the air. This release caused a lot of air pollution. It emitted about 223 tons of carbon dioxide and a very high 27,040 tons of methane. Methane is a gas that has a strong greenhouse effect, more than 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide. In 2022, methane made up about 10 percent of all the methane emissions recorded in Pennsylvania.

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In addition, the incident caused the highest amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions from any facility in the oil and gas sector in the state in 2022. The total emissions amounted to 106 tons. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are substances that contribute to the formation of ozone. They can have harmful effects on health, especially for people with respiratory conditions, and can lead to other negative health outcomes.

The gas release was not controlled, which caused the DEP to take immediate action. It also led to a temporary flight restriction over the area. The DEP recommended this restriction and it was issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. This shows how serious the situation was.

This incident shows that it is very important to have strict rules and regulations for natural gas storage fields. These fields are mainly regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the federal level. The large fines given to Equitrans are a strong reminder of how important it is for the energy industry to follow environmental laws and regulations. This helps protect the environment and public health, and prevents similar incidents from happening again in the future.

The DEP is keeping an eye on the environmental effects of the incident. This situation shows how difficult it is to find a balance between producing energy and protecting the environment and public safety. This balance is important not just for Pennsylvania, but for other places as well.

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