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DEC files complaint over Pa. drilling

By: Todd Etshman//January 26, 2012

DEC files complaint over Pa. drilling

By: Todd Etshman//January 26, 2012

Allegheny Defense Project members walk alongside gas drilling sites in the Allegheny National Forest. Allegheny Defense Project

The future of hydrofracking operations in the state of New York is still undetermined, but the Department of Environmental Conservation believes there is already evidence of gas drilling chemical pollution in a New York waterway. 

The DEC filed an administrative complaint this week against U.S. Energy Development Corp. for numerous violations of Article 17 of the Environmental Conservation Law as a result of their gas drilling-hydrofracking operation in the Allegheny National Forest on the New York-Pennsylvania border. The complaint alleges the company’s oil and gas drilling in McKean County, Pa., has polluted Yeager Brook, a trout stream that flows north into New York and Cattaraugus County. 

The complaint also states the company failed to perform its required obligations from two previous consent orders that stemmed from alleged discharge of pollutants into the brook.

“This is pretty rare where you have oil and gas activity in another state causing water pollution in water that flows into our state,” said Neil Woodworth, counsel and executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, which is concerned with the proximity of the operation to New York and Alleghany State Park.

Woodworth said the pollution of Yeager Brook comes from shallow waste pits containing brine, drill cuttings and wastewater that overflow across the forest floor and into the brook. The complaint filed by DEC Regional Attorney Maureen A. Brady in Buffalo alleges the company failed to “install adequate and effective erosion and sediment controls” as required by a December 2010 consent order.

The complaint also alleges the company allowed “turbid runoff to leave their lease roads and well pads” during rainstorms on three separate occasions and as recently as Jan. 17.

“We will not allow U.S. Energy’s actions in Pennsylvania to negatively impact New York’s waters,” said DEC Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Steven Russo. “U.S. Energy must ensure that proper stormwater controls are put in place to prevent future violations.”

Woodworth said the laws of both states require adequate storage of wastewater, drill cuttings and contaminants.

“Alleghany State Park is wild and unspoiled,” Woodworth said. “You can stand on the dividing line in places with old growth oak, cherry and hemlock trees but right across the border are hugely cleared areas, well pads with oil pumping devices, storage tanks and pits for drilling waste.”

The complaint seeks $112,500 in damages — the maximum allowed by law — plus $75,000 for failing to comply with two previous consent orders for similar violations.

“U.S. Energy is not aware of any issues at the wells in question,” the company said through its local spokesman, William Albert. 

“We were told that DEC alerted Pennsylvania’s DEP of its concerns,” Albert said. “DEP asked DEC for a meeting to discuss DEC’s concerns for validation, but [they] never responded back. U.S. Energy intends to vigorously defend itself.”

U.S. Energy Development Corp.’s corporate headquarters are located in Getzville, near Buffalo. 

The complaint asks the chief administrative law judge of DEC’s Office of Hearings and Mediation Services to set an adjudicatory hearing on the matter in Buffalo.

Cathy Peddler, forest watch coordinator for the Pennsylvania based Allegheny Defense Project, said environmental advocates are not pleased with Pennsylvania’s enforcement of gas drilling in the Allegheny forest.

“It’s unfortunate that New York has to come in and do their job for them,” Peddler said. “They’re doing a much better job up there than we are. The actions in Pennsylvania are having an effect in New York.”

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