Seneca Resources Corp. agreed to pay the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) a $375,000 fine for violating the state's Clean Streams Law, Dam Safety and Encroachment Act, the Oil and Gas Act and the Solid Waste Management Act.
The DEP did not specify where the incidents occurred, but it said the violations happened between 2013 and 2015 at construction sites in Northwest Pennsylvania's Forest, McKean and Elk counties. The agency said violations stemmed mainly from inadequate erosion and sedimentation control. Seneca, the exploration and production subsidiary of National Fuel Gas Co., has resolved all the violations identified in the civil penalty.
Among the transgressions were the discharge of roughly 70-100 bbl of crude oil that the agency said flowed across land and into a tributary of Windfall Run, a cold water fishery in McKean County. The DEP also cited the company for another 500 barrels of flowback fluid that leaked from a valve into the ground and surrounding wetlands in Forest County.
Seneca spokesman Rob Boulware said the oil spill happened after a valve on a storage tank for a conventional well failed during severely cold weather, while the brine water leak occurred after a wing valve was damaged by a winch line during snubbing operations. Boulware said 2.3% of the 2,807 DEP inspections conducted at Seneca well sites between 2013 and 2016 resulted in violations.
Seneca also was fined for failing to comply with the conditions of an erosion control permit and failing to "maintain best management practices" during excavation activities. DEP said Seneca failed to comply with an approved water management plan in McKean County and withdrew water during a drought watch. Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said sediment is a major cause of stream impairment in the state.
Boulware said most of the fine was attributed to the brine water and oil spills, claiming that neither incident resulted in significant impacts to the environment.
“Seneca employs best practices in all aspects of its operations and continues to revise those practices in keeping with technological advances, regulatory requirements and the lessons learned through daily operations,” he said.
Forest, McKean and Elk counties are part of Seneca's broader Western Development Area, which encompasses several counties and includes 715,000 acres. The company also operates in the northern tier counties of Potter, Tioga and Lycoming, where it has 70,000 acres in its Eastern Development Area.