Drilling wastewater spill results in fine for Atlas Resources

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PITTSBURGH, PA, Aug. 17, 2010 -- The Department of Environmental Protection has fined Atlas Resources LLC $97,350 for allowing used hydraulic fracturing fluids to overfill a wastewater pit and contaminate a high-quality watershed in Hopewell Township, Washington County.

The violations were discovered on Dec. 5 and 6, 2009, at the Cowden 17 gas well on Old Trail Road off Route 844. Once the unknown quantity of fluid overflowed the impoundment's banks, it ran over the ground and into a tributary of Dunkle Run.

"It is unacceptable for drilling companies in Pennsylvania to threaten public safety or harm the environment through careless acts, such as this," DEP Southwest Regional Director George Jugovic Jr. said. "The Marcellus Shale offers significant economic opportunities for Pennsylvania, but these companies must adopt operating standards that prevent these sorts of accidents and they must make protecting our water resources a top priority."

This spill violated Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Act and Solid Waste Management Act, as well as the state's Clean Streams Law. Atlas corrected the problem once it was discovered, but failed to report it to DEP.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process during which liquid is pumped under high pressure down a well and into a rock formation. This causes the formation to crack open and form passages through which natural gas can flow into the borehole.

Properly cased and cemented wells prevent the fluid from entering ground water supplies. Diluted frack fluids are classified as residual waste under Pennsylvania's Solid Waste Management Act and industrial waste under the state Clean Streams Law.

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