The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Friday ordered Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to stop using hydraulic fracturing (hydrofrac) on its natural gas shale wells in Susquehanna County.

The order followed three spills of a hydrofrac lubricant at a Cabot drilling site (see NGI, Sept. 21). DEP last Tuesday issued a notice of violation for two spills that occurred Sept. 16 at the Heitsman well site. On Friday it issued a separate notice of violation for the third spill, which occurred last Tuesday.

"The department took this action because of our concern about Cabot's current fracing process and to ensure that the environment in Susquehanna County is properly protected," said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Robert Yowell.

According to DEP, Cabot voluntarily shut down hydrofrac operations at the Heitsman well in Dimock Township on Tuesday following the spills. The company currently is drilling seven new wells in the county that will require hydrofracing, DEP said.

The DEP order requires Cabot to develop within 14 days an updated and accurate Pollution Prevention and Contingency Plan and a Control and Disposal Plan for all permitted well pad sites in Susquehanna County. Cabot also was ordered to conduct an engineering study of all equipment and work practices associated with hydrofracing at all well sites in the county within 21 days.

The engineering study, said DEP, has to include a detailed evaluation and explanation of the causes of the three spills that have occurred since Sept. 16. Cabot also has to establish corrective measures that it will use to prevent similar releases.

Within 21 days of DEP's approval of the two plans and the engineering study, Cabot has to "fully implement all of the recommendations and requirements in those documents," said DEP.

In addition, Cabot has to place the approved plans "in a conspicuous location at each permitted well site and provide a copy to each contractor and subcontractor working at any well site. Contractors and subcontractors cannot begin work at any well site until they receive the two plans," the regulator said.

Cabot spokesman Ken Komoroski said there were "unique elements" at the Heitsman well site and it wasn't necessary to force Cabot to cease all of its hydrofrac activities. "However Cabot understands the department has an important job to do," he said.

According to DEP, Cabot contractors in two separate incidents on Sept. 16 spilled an estimated 8,000 gallons of a liquid gel at the company's Heitsman gas well pad in Dimock Township in Susquehanna County The gel, called LGC-35, is mixed with water and acts as a lubricant to fracture natural gas shale. About 4.9 gallons of LGC-35 are mixed with each 1,000 gallons of water.

For all three spills, Cabot was cited for an unpermitted discharge of polluting substances, an unpermitted discharge of residual waste, two unpermitted encroachments on Stevens Creek, not containing polluting substances at the well site and an unpermitted discharge of industrial waste. The incidents violated Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law, Pennsylvania Solid Waste Management Act, Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, and Oil and Gas Act, officials said.

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