Updated: Aug 24
August 21, 2020
oday DEP reached an agreement with CNX to address the January 2019 well control incident at the Shaw Well Pad in Washington Township, Westmoreland County which caused a casing failure at approximately 5,200 feet deep resulting in rapid migration of methane and fracking fluid into the substrate. Nine shallow conventional wells (approximately 3,800 feet deep and scattered approximately one mile Southwest and Northeast) needed to be flared in order to prevent an explosion.
“This incident demonstrates a historical pattern of negligence from CNX and the damaging consequences for their operations to threaten the Beaver Run Reservoir, the public drinking water source for 130,000 households,” said Gillian Graber, Executive Director of Protect PT.
The incident in January of 2019 is one of 653 violations that CNX has been cited for on their 123 wells in Pennsylvania in the last 10 years. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection took over a year and a half to investigate the incident and fine the operator. Since the incident, the PA DEP has approved 70 new permits to CNX to conduct more drilling and fracking activity.
“The DEP has not acted quickly enough to protect the public’s drinking water source,” Graber said. “They also failed to make the investigation public so residents could understand the full impacts of what happened near their water source.”
Documents obtained by Protect PT show that the PA DEP contracted Matergenics, Inc. to conduct an analysis of why the incident happened and if the steps that CNX took to correct future incidents were sufficient. The report cites hydrogen embrittlement as the likely cause that led to hydrogen stress cracking under extreme pressure. CNX refused two requests by Matergenics to submit the chemical composition of the fracking fluid used for analysis.
“This was a completely avoidable incident because CNX knows the chemical composition of their fracking fluid and should have taken hydrogen embrittlement into account when selecting casings for their wells,” Graber said.
“We still don’t know the extent of the damage to the underlying rock strata and underlying water table,” said Graber. “The fact that the methane from this casing failure travelled so far and wide underneath the surface of the earth should be cause for major concern by the PA DEP, yet they are conducting business as usual. The recent Attorney General’s report highlights the harms to public health and the environment that the people of Pennsylvania have endured for the last decade or so. How much damage must be done to our water and air in Pennsylvania before the state agency tasked with protecting it will do their job and stop negligent operators? We see this as an ongoing and systemic failure of the oil and gas industry and the PA DEP.”