Chesapeake Appalachia has agreed to pay a $1.9 million civil penalty for violating the federal Clean Water Act and the state Clean Streams Law by dredging or filling 76 separate stream or wetland sites in five Pennsylvania counties without proper permits.
The consent agreement, reached in December, with the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also requires Chesapeake to either clean up the affected wetlands and waterways or provide improvements to other sites. The unauthorized discharges impacted about 26 acres of wetlands and 2,326 linear feet of streams.
In 2014, after a similar wetland-related investigation in West Virginia and on the heels of a management shake-up, Chesapeake disclosed to DEP and EPA a number of possible violations, according to a DEP press release. This came after an internal environmental audit found the company repeatedly failed to identify wetland resources it its applications to develop oil and gas well sites between 2005 and 2014. The violations occurred in Beaver County in Western Pennsylvania, and also in Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming counties.
“This settlement resolves many violations over several years and leads to a net increase of wetlands and restored streams,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. He applauded Chesapeake for voluntarily disclosing the violations and agreeing come into compliance.
Both EPA and DEP permits are required before encroaching on waterways. “Filling wetlands illegally and damming streams can result in serious environmental consequences,” an EPA press release said. “Streams, rivers, and wetlands benefit the environment by reducing flood risks, filtering pollutants, recharging groundwater and drinking water supplies, and providing food and habitat for aquatic species.”
The consent decree negotiations were interrupted when Chesapeake and its affiliates filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2020. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in January approved Chesapeake’s reorganization plan, which included requirements for it to correct its wetland violations.
The consent decree is subject to a 30 day public comment period and final court approval. The $1.9 million fine will be split by DEP and EPA, with DEP’s portion going to its Oil and Gas Fund and Dam and Encroachments Fund.