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Chesapeake Faces Maryland Lawsuit Over Marcellus Blowout

Maryland intends to sue Chesapeake Energy Corp. over an April 19 Marcellus Shale well blowout and the release of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) fluid into a tributary of the Susquehanna River, according to the state's attorney general, Douglas F. Gansler.

The state intends to file a citizen suit and seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act at the close of a required 90-day notice period, and also intends to seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, Gansler said.

"Companies cannot expose citizens to dangerous chemicals that pose serious health risks to the environment and to public health. We are using all resources available to hold Chesapeake Energy accountable for its actions," Gansler said.

While the blowout occurred in northeast Pennsylvania (see Shale Daily, April 25), thousands of gallons of hydrofracking fluid were released from the well into Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which supplies 45% of the fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay, according to Gansler. The 200-mile-long Chesapeake Bay, which stretches from the Susquehanna to the Atlantic Ocean, is surrounded by Maryland and Virginia.

Chesapeake said crews regained "permanent well control" of Atgas 2H on April 25 (see Shale Daily, April 27). The well had been in "stable" condition for several days.

Following an initial investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to Chesapeake (see Shale Daily, April 26). Because of the chemical additives in hydrofracking fluids, DEP took samples of nearby streams and home drinking water wells. Chesapeake released "an unknown quantity of frack fluid" from the well site, allowed frack fluid to enter an unnamed tributary of Towanda Creek and also allowed it to hit the ground, according to the NOV. Those violations could yield fines in excess of $100,000.

Chesapeake, which voluntarily suspended all completion operations in Pennsylvania as response crews worked on the Atgas 2H well, has described the liquid as "brine water." Most of the brine water stayed within on-site containment structures, but recent rain in the area weakened the earthen containment, allowing fluids to leave the site, according to the company. Chesapeake and the DEP began collecting soil and water samples soon after the event. After sampling multiple areas, including the mouth of a local creek and private water supplies, the DEP said the only impact discovered was dead tadpoles and frogs, but no dead fish, in a local pond. The DEP also planned to test at a creek, located 16 miles from the well pad, that feeds into the Susquehanna River.

The Atgas 2H well is located in Leroy, a small township in Bradford County, the most productive county in the Marcellus with 65.8 Bcf in the final six months of 2010, the most recent figures available. Chesapeake is the largest leaseholder in the Marcellus, with more than 1.7 million acres.

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