A man who worked briefly for a company that built a natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County, PA, for Chief Oil and Gas LLC has pleaded guilty to damaging the pipeline after the construction company fired him, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Henry Virgil Benton of Bradford, AR, pleaded guilty on April 4 to “knowingly engaging in an excavation activity resulting in damage to a natural gas pipeline exceeding $50,000,” according to U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith.

Benton, who had worked for Houston-based Holloman Corp. for about five weeks before being fired on June 15, 2011, “used a track hoe to excavate and then damaged, dent[ed] and open[ed] holes in the natural gas pipeline located in Cogan House Township” in northeastern Pennsylvania, prosecutors said.

The damaged pipeline, known as the Emig Line, is a gathering pipeline for Marcellus Shale wells and is defined as an “intrastate gas pipeline facility” under Title 49 of U.S. Code, according to an indictment handed up by a grand jury June 29, 2011.

Under terms of a plea agreement, Benton is to serve a prison sentence of 12-18 months followed by three years of supervised release, and is to pay restitution of between $50,000 and $208,000. The maximum possible sentence for the charges was five years in prison and fines totaling $250,000. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pennsylvania State Police.

Lycoming County is the most active jurisdiction for natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale, with 43 wells and 124 permits issued in the first two months of 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (see Shale Daily, March 20).

Penn Virginia Resource Partners LP said Tuesday it is buying Chief Gathering LLC, a sister company to producer Chief Oil & Gas, from Chief E&D Holdings LP for $1 billion (see Shale Daily, April 11).