DALLAS - The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued several citations against Noble Energy for spilling 2,264 barrels of brine wastewater into a tributary of Big Wheeling Creek in Marshall County on Feb. 22.
"This is the first time we have seen something like this happen. They need to tell us how they are going to prevent this from happening again," said Kathy Cosco, spokeswoman for the DEP.
Noble is an active Marcellus Shale gas producer in Marshall County that partners with Consol Energy to drill and frack wells. On Feb. 22, Noble discovered that a pit - containing both fresh water and brine wastewater, which is produced during the fracking process - was overflowing because of an open valve. The pit is located on surface property owned by Consol.
Initial reports to the National Response Center estimated the spill at 8,000 barrels. However, Cosco said the DEP is accepting Noble's estimate of 2,264 barrels.
"Our inspectors went out but found no evidence of a fish kill," she said.
After gas drillers pump millions of gallons of fracking fluid - consisting mostly of water and sand, but also including different chemical combinations that vary according to the choice of the driller - into a production well at high pressure, much of this substance flushes back up through the well. The fracking fluid combines with minerals and mud from the earth to create the brine wastewater.
Stacey Brodak, manager of community and media relations for Noble, noted that centralized pits such as this are part of Noble's water recycling program, emphasizing that these ponds are permitted and regulated through the DEP.
"A root cause analysis and investigation is under way, and Noble Energy will implement appropriate measures to prevent this type of event from occurring again," Brodak said.
The DEP notices of violation against Noble include: allowing pollutants to flow into waters of the state; violating monitoring and emergency action plans; failure to maintain the pit in such a manner as to minimize adverse environmental effects; failing to maintain 2 feet of freeboard to minimize the risk of overtopping; and violating the state's water quality standards by discharging pollutants into a nearby stream and allowing industrial waste emanating from a point source to flow into waters of the state.
Because of these alleged violations, the DEP also filed an order to cease operations, as well as an order that outlines the actions Noble needs to take to abate the violations.
Cosco said Noble must analyze the wastewater and the impacted soil to determine what was in the water, while also developing a remediation plant to remove and dispose of any contaminated soil. The company must also test all water wells within 2,000 feet of the spill, while having an engineer evaluate the structural integrity of the centralized pit.
"Noble Energy is reviewing the documents and intends to continue to cooperate with the (DEP) on this matter," Brodak added.