Marcellus drillers feel heat as EPA mulls expanded Clean Water Act oversight

Wetlands were early casualties of the Marcellus Shale boom. Beginning in 2007, oil and gas drillers in West Virginia built well pads, roads, compressor stations and pipelines through streams and wetlands at nearly 50 sites without Clean Water Act permits, according to a Greenwire review of U.S. EPA compliance orders for drilling in the state.

 

Credit: Annie Snider, E&E reporter, Greenwire

First of two stories on wetlands in Marcellus Shale states

JANE LEW, W.Va. — Wetlands were early casualties of the Marcellus Shale boom. Beginning in 2007, oil and gas drillers in West Virginia built well pads, roads, compressor stations and pipelines through streams and wetlands at nearly 50 sites without Clean Water Act permits, according to a Greenwire review of U.S. EPA compliance orders for drilling in the state. As the drilling spread, concerns about potential wetland violations were eclipsed by questions from regulators and the public about the drilling technique — hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — and its possible impact on drinking water quality and public health.

But wetland issues re-emerged in December when a Chesapeake Energy Corp. subsidiary agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle a Clean Water Act violation linked to fracking operations. The tab includes a $3.2 million civil fine — one of the largest levied for damaging wetlands without permits. That big penalty, combined with several years of concerted educational efforts, has driven companies into a permitting process they should have been going through in the first place, regulators say. But now a pending regulatory change expected to extend protections for waters and wetlands stands to redraw the map for oil and gas activities in the region, according to industry staff, consultants and other stakeholders. The rule shift, they say, could alter the economics of gas drilling.

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