Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro began his term with the oil and gas industry in his sights. Since taking office in 2017, AG Shapiro has launched numerous investigations, assembled grand juries, and subsequently published a report on a two-year-long grand jury investigation spanning 235 pages pertaining to the “systemic failures” of the state Department of Environmental Protection in overseeing the natural gas industry. Last month, his office filed criminal charges against two gas companies, and Shapiro hinted that more action was to come.
Last week, the AG’s office filed criminal charges against two more gas-related companies for their alleged misconduct.
This case involves another pipeline leak in Washington County. New York-based National Fuel Gas Supply Corp., and its subcontractor, Southeast Directional Drilling, have been charged with environmental crimes.
Both National Fuel Gas Supply Corp. and Southeast Directional Drilling were charged with:
· Two counts of Prohibition of Discharge of Industrial Waste under the Clean Streams Law;
· Two counts of Prohibition Against Other Pollutants under the Clean Streams Law;
· One count of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law.
These charges stem from one event in 2015, while in the process of boring a horizontal hole in which a pipeline would later sit, residents complained that the water coming from their taps was white and milky, prompting the DEP and local authorities to investigate. This type of directional drilling is done not only in unconventional natural gas extraction, but also to lay pipeline underneath obstacles on the surface, such as roadways and bodies of water, without disturbing them. In this process, the drill is lubricated using a combination of clay, bentonite, and a mixture of often proprietary formulas of other chemicals to ease the drilling process.
According to the grand jury’s findings, the accused companies lost control of the pipeline used to secrete the lubricating mud, which then spread in unintended areas, thus contaminating groundwater and other local water sources. While spills and leaks are not uncommon, what made this act criminal was the companies’ willful choice to not report the leak, or fix the issue, the AG’s office determined.
In testimony to the statewide grand jury, an employee working on the pipeline stated that he and his colleagues were directed by their supervisors to “(pretend) they didn’t see it, more or less” and that “it is common with the industry to ‘look the other way,’” This admission, along with hours of other testimony led to criminal charges being brought against the two companies.
In a press release about the charges, AG Shapiro state that “(he) made a commitment to Pennsylvanians that I would protect their constitutional right to clean air and pure water,” further stating, “These companies turned a blind eye to that right and will be held accountable”.
This situation is like many others in the Commonwealth, with other gas companies being investigated and charged criminally, and will most likely continue as AG Shapiro continues his mission to hold the industry accountable.