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Major Pa. Gas Leak Brings $1 Million Penalty

Equitrans Midstream will pay civil penalties of $1.14 million for violations of state environmental laws from a major natural gas storage field leak in 2022 in Cambria County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently announced the settlement for air quality, waste, and oil and gas violations during the almost two-week long uncontrolled release of gas from the Rager Mountain storage field and the George L. Reade storage well before contractors were able to control and plug it.

Equitrans, based in Canonsburg, agreed to pay $350,000 for air quality violations, the maximum allowable under state regulations, and $764,000 for violations of oil and gas and solid waste laws.

There are currently 48 active natural gas storage fields with approximately 1,800 individual wells located in the Commonwealth. These storage wells are often repurposed former gas extraction wells but work in the opposite way. Depleted gas well sites are regularly used for storage, as the empty subsurface geologic formations are suitable to hold injected gas. That stored gas serves as a reserve to meet the varying needs of gas utility companies during peak demand periods.

DEP responded to the Cambria County emergency immediately and had personnel on site for 15 days. The agency has “continued to expend significant resources to investigate and oversee remedial activities through 2023,” a release states.

DEP employees and those living nearby described odors and a noise like that of a jet engine as massive amounts of natural gas vented from the well, the release indicates. There was a visible plume of gas that led the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a temporary flight restriction over the area.

Estimates provided by Equitrans indicated that more than 1 billion cubic feet (bcf) of natural gas vented into the atmosphere, which contained about 223 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 27,040 tons of methane, representing approximately 10% of the methane emissions in the state for 2022. CO2 and methane are both greenhouse gases, with methane trapping more than 25 times as much heat in the atmosphere as CO2. The releases violated state air quality regulations.

Also released were 106 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to ozone formation and contain hazardous chemicals that can cause health effects.

While trying to bring the well under control, a mixture of fresh water and a heavy bring was pumped into the well to stop the gas flow, and between 50 and 100 barrels of heavy brine was spilled on the ground and into wetlands.

DEP issued two compliance orders to Equitrans, which which the company has complied, and DEP continues to monitor the environmental impacts. The gas storage field is also regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which continue to investigate. Late last year, Equitrans was permitted to resume injecting natural gas into the storage field with limitations.

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