Friday, October 28, 2016

Drilling Company Wins Water Well Contamination Case, But Court Says Actions Reckless

Commonwealth Court issued an opinion Friday saying Washington County landowner Loren Kiskadden did not meet the burden of proving Range Resources’ Yeager Marcellus Shale drill site operations contaminated his water well from 2009 to 2011.
The Court, however, took the unusual step of chastising Range Resources for its “reckless business practices” which it said were “bordering on reprehensible.”
The Court said, “Range’s reckless business practices, combined with its repeated failure to report problems at the Yeager Site, are irresponsible in the extreme, bordering on reprehensible. The list of leaks and spills at the Yeager Site is troubling.
“Although there is little dispute that the activities at the Yeager Site impacted the environment and contaminated the soil and adjacent springs, the issue before this Court was whether Range’s activities impacted Kiskadden’s water well.” (page 42)
Kiskadden appealed a 2015 Environmental Hearing Board decision to Commonwealth Court after the Board also found, after an extensive investigation of the facts, he did not meet the burden of proof.  (Click Here for EHB docket On Kiskadden appeal.)
The Environmental Hearing Board record, however, quoted by the Court, found 11 instances (7 in 2010 and 4 in 2011) where Range Resources did not report leaks and spills at the Yeager site as they were required to do. (page 5)
Commonwealth Court said, “The problems at the Yeager Site persisted after Kiskadden filed his complaint, including one instance where, without obtaining Department approval, Range flushed the drill cuttings pit with 30,000 gallons of water. At the time of flushing, the soil contained contaminants above background levels.” (page 6)
The Court concluded, “Although Kiskadden presented a great deal of evidence, unfortunately, that evidence did not carry the day before the Board. Kiskadden’s evidence did not outweigh strong, conflicting evidence that the contaminants in his well water, particularly in the ratios and concentrations detected, were naturally occurring and not unique to oil and gas activities.
“Moreover, his evidence did not prevail over other credible evidence refuting the existence or likelihood of a physical pathway between his well and the Yeager Site.
“Taking into consideration our appellate role and the weight and credibility assigned to the evidence by the Board, we are constrained to conclude that the Board’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and that the Board did not capriciously disregard the evidence or improperly rely on speculative evidence.
“The Board’s findings support the conclusion that Kiskadden did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a hydrogeological connection exists between his water well and Range’s operations at the Yeager Site.
“Accordingly, we affirm.” (pages 42-43)
Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough issued a dissenting opinion which argued the Environmental Hearing Board had granted Kiskadden a rebuttable evidentiary presumption when Range Resources failed to respond to requests for discovery.  (page 45)
Judge McCullough said the Board then basically reversed the presumption it granted to Kiskadden by saying the contaminants in Kiskadden’s well could have come from somewhere elese.
A copy of the opinions are available online.
In September of 2014, the Department of Environmental Protection signed a consent order and agreement with Range Resources covering violations at six of its Washington County drilling site impoundments, including the Yeager site.
A record $4.15 million penalty was included in the agreement with Range.
DEP has available a list of water supplies it confirms were damaged by conventional and unconventional oil and gas drilling through September 7, 2016.  There are now 282 on this list, an increase of 34 since September of 2014.
Related Stories:
EnergyWire: 3 PA Senators Want Court To Lift Drilling Moratorium In Delaware Basin

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