Dec
06
2010

CHESAPEAKE, EPA AND 404 PERMITS

Stream destruction-it’s not just for coal mines any more

By Cindy Rank

With all our attention on Clean Water Act Section 404 ‘fill’ permits from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) related to coal mining operations, one might have the impression that the coal industry has a lock on problems re stream fills.

WRONG.

Early in November Chesapeake Appalachia, one of the larger gas companies drilling into the Marcellus shale gas reserves in north central West Virginia, was cited by the Environmental Protection Agency for violating Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by placing rock, dirt and pipes into streams without legally required permits.

WETZEL AND MARSHALL COUNTIES

Chesapeake has been drilling extensively in Wetzel County these past many months and the local folks in the area have been documenting problems associated with the drilling efforts, traffic, spills, pipeline and compressor station construction, etc. on their website at www.wcag-wv.org.

Pictured on the website are photos of a beautiful cascading shallow waterfall that has delighted local residents for many years and the roadbed that now covers that section of the stream thanks to Chesapeake’s blatant disregard for the resources of the area and for the regulations governing actions that involve stream protection since all this was apparently done with nary a nod to the need for a permit to do so.

Before they built the road in the stream

After they built the road in the stream

Nestled in an area riddled with numerous well permits, Blake Fork of Fish Creek near New Martinsville was found completely filled with gravel when federal inspectors visited earlier this year.

In addition to Blake Fork, EPA cited the company for discharges into Lynn Camp Run, other tributaries and associated wetlands that had also been done without the legally required Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

If left unabated, these and other citations from both EPA and the WV Department of Environmental Protection may yield hefty fines, but in the end, ‘seeing is believing’ and I for one will wait.

The compliance orders require Chesapeake to remove the fill and restore the streams and wetlands “to pre-disturbance conditions.” But one wonders just how that can be accomplished where the waterfall once existed.

UPSHUR COUNTY

So, I can’t tell this story without also questioning the actions of Chesapeake here in my home county of Upshur.

I’ve voiced concern at various meetings about the construction of well pads that are carved out of hillsides, many of which involve the relocation or directing of normal stream flow away from or under the newly constructed well site.

But of course the shrug of the shoulders answer indicates that the company must have the necessary 404 fill permits from the Corps. Without time to check into it any further I assumed [and, yes, I know better] one of the nationwide permits would have covered the placement of culverts to carry stream flow under the new well pads. But there is nowhere in the state well permitting process that indicates such permits have been applied for or granted. And since there is no public notice about nationwide permit applications it is a bit of a challenge to find that information even if it does exist.

At least two of Chesapeake’s sites I’m familiar with here in the Little Kanawha River headwaters area have been of particular concern to me.especially given the fact that – as one mine inspector often said – “when you scratch the ground here it bleeds”. I.e. when disturbed, the pyritic content of the rock in our area gives way to acid drainage and was indeed the reason for our successful defeat of strip mine permits in the early 1980′s.

Chesapeake’s Tall Trees site is built over two rather substantial streams that now run through corrugated piping underneath the well pad. Over the past eleven months I’ve watched the flow at the lower end of the pipe go from clear to occasionally rust colored and the corrugated pipe accumulate that tell-tale iron stain typical of drainage from disturbed land in this neck of the woods.

The same may have happened at the Archie Hawkins site where neighbors witnessed a yellow-boy discharge after the very large well pad had been constructed.

The amount of iron, lower pH, etc may not be significant from any one of these sources, but after all these years it’s painful to watch our local high quality streams be subjected to a thousand new pin-pricks of pollution.

EPA REQUEST FOR DOCUMENTS

We’ll surely keep an eye on these activities as best we can, and work through federal and state legislative processes for more responsible permitting and oversight. But I’m also hopeful that the EPA request for documents from Chesapeake as a result of the recent citations in Wetzel and Marshall Counties will expose additional requirements that still exist for companies – not just Chesapeake – to practice increased due diligence in site excavation, road building, pipeline and compressor station construction, and other activities associated with Marcellus drilling that have the potential to directly or indirectly impact our water resources.

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