Stamp Sets Hearing In Chesapeake Water Case

Chesapeake Appalachia agreed to pay $600,000 for violating the federal Clean Water Act in Wetzel County, which would constitute one of the highest penalties ever assessed for energy extraction, authorities said.

However, as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Special Agent in Charge David G. McLeod acknowledged, the matter now lies in the hands of U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. A sentencing hearing is set for 9 a.m. Monday in Stamp’s chambers at the Federal Building on Chapline Street in Wheeling.

Chesapeake Appalachia is the local operating division of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy. In October, the company reached an agreement with U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld to plead guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act in Wetzel County in late 2008 – and to pay $200,000 for each of three separate violations.

These violations included discharging 60 tons of crushed stone and gravel into Blake Fork in rural Wetzel County, which resulted in the removal of a waterfall to construct a road to facilitate Chesapeake’s drilling and fracking operations.

“After reviewing the report, the court concludes that this case is ready for the sentencing hearing at which time the Court will impose sentence,” Stamp wrote in his scheduling order filed last week.

Pending Stamp’s acceptance of the plea agreement, Chesapeake would also receive two years of court-supervised probation.

Ihlenfeld said Chesapeake as a whole – rather than a specific individual – will be supervised during the probation, noting it is not unusual for a company to be given probation as a penalty.

Ihlenfeld and McLeod said Chesapeake is responsible for the violations because the company: selected the location for an access road to a site associated with its drilling activities; hired construction contractors to discharge; spread rock and gravel in Blake Fork in order to develop access to the Hohman Pit; and supervised and directed the work of the construction contractors.

The Blake Fork waterfall has since been restored at Chesapeake’s expense, but Ihlenfeld said it is vital to enforce the Clean Water Act. The law specifically prohibits the discharge of any pollutant from a point source into the waters of the United States without a permit.

Discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States are prohibited, unless authorized by a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Ihlenfeld and McLeod said Chesapeake did not even apply for a permit in this case.

Additionally, the parties agreed that separate violations committed by Chesapeake in Marshall and Wetzel counties would be addressed by civil penalties and not via criminal charges. The other violations still under EPA investigation to be addressed with civil penalties are:

  • Impoundment of an unnamed tributary to Laurel Run between January 2007 and December 2009;
  • Constructing the Gordon Stansberry well pad about 2.2 miles north of W.Va. 89, near New Martinsville. This project also included the burial of an underground pipeline; and
  • Building the Chesapeake “B” well pad, along with the widening of Lynn Camp Road, also located north of W.Va. 89.

“Chesapeake Appalachia remains fully committed to regulatory compliance and promptly instituted additional training and oversight to help ensure that our regulatory obligations are met,” the company noted in a statement acknowledging the plea.

This week, Chesapeake spokeswoman Jacque Bland said the company had no further comment.