A Chesapeake Energy Corp. subsidiary on Friday was fined $600,000 and placed on probation for two years after pleading guilty in federal court to violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) in order to build a roadway to a natural gas drilling site in northern West Virginia.

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II of the Northern District of West Virginia said Chesapeake Appalachia LLC pleaded guilty to discharging 60 tons of crushed stone and gravel into Blake Fork in Wetzel County at least three different times in December 2008. Chesapeake then spread the material in the stream to create a roadway to improve access to a drilling site.

“The defendant illegally filled at least three sensitive wetlands; in one instance, obliterating a natural waterfall,” said Environmental Protection Agency Special Agent David G. McLeod Jr., who leads the agency’s criminal enforcement program in West Virginia. “This plea agreement demonstrates that those who illegally fill in or destroy these essential natural resources will be prosecuted.”

Chesapeake agreed to pay a $200,000 fine for each of the three convictions and serve court-supervised probation for two years. Separate violations committed by Chesapeake in conjunction with impoundments built in Marshall and Wetzel counties are to be addressed by civil penalties and not through criminal charges, the U.S. Attorney’s office stated.

Last year the Marcellus Shale-based Chesapeake unit was temporarily barred from removing soil from an impoundment in Wetzel County (see Shale Daily, April 15, 2011). The court order followed a lawsuit filed in 2010 regarding drilling waste that apparently had been dumped in the drilling waste pit near New Martinsville, WV.

Unless a permit has been issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, discharges of dredged or fill material are prohibited into U.S. waters, under Section 404 of the CWA.

“Chesapeake violated the Clean Water Act when, in 2008, it selected the location for an access road to a site associated with its drilling activities, hired construction contractors to discharge and spread rock and gravel in Blake Fork in order to develop access to the Hohman Pit, and supervised and directed the work of the construction contractors,” Ihlenfeld said. “These contractors hired by Chesapeake discharged gravel from dump trucks into Blake Fork, also known as Blake Run, on at least three separate and distinct occasions.”

The contractors, who were supervised by a Chesapeake employee, “subsequently used bulldozers to spread the 60 tons of gravel in Blake Fork to develop access to the Hohman Pit in order to facilitate Marcellus Shale gas drilling activities. Chesapeake failed to obtain a Clean Water Act permit prior to this discharge.”

Chesapeake Appalachia officials confirmed the plea agreement and said in cooperation with the Corps and the EPA, they had removed the gravel under an approved restoration plan and restored the site.