Md. AG plans water suit against Chesapeake Energy

Jessica M. Karmasek May 5, 2011, 9:38am


BALTIMORE (Legal Newsline) - Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said on Monday he has notified Chesapeake Energy Corp. and its affiliates of the State's intent over the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act.

On April 19, thousands of gallons of fracking fluids were released from a well owned and operated by Chesapeake Energy into Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which supplies 45 percent of the fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay.

In his letter, Gansler notified the company that at the close of the required 90-day notice period, the State intends to file a citizen suit and seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under RCRA for solid or hazardous waste contamination of soils and ground waters, and the surface waters and sediments of Towanda Creek and the Susquehanna River.

The State also intends to seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under the CWA for violation of the CWA's prohibition on unpermitted pollution to waters of the United States, he said.

Chesapeake Energy owns and operates numerous natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale, including the Atgas 2H well in Leroy Township in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

Marcellus Shale, an underground rock formation that spans portions of Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, is estimated to contain 250 to 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, a valuable energy resource.

Natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale are extracted through a process of vertical and horizontal drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, "hydrofracking" or "fracking." This process involves the injection of fluids containing a mixture of water, chemicals and other compounds into a well that has been drilled into the Marcellus Shale -- fluids that, at high pressure, can fracture rock formations in the shale and release natural gas, which can then be extracted. These fluids are referred to as "drilling fluids," "fracturing fluids" or "fracking fluids."

According to Gansler's office, at about 11:45 p.m. April 19, essential components of the Atgas 2H well failed, causing tens of thousands of gallons of fracking fluids to be released. These fluids escaped Chesapeake Energy's inadequate containment, crossed over neighboring farm fields, and entered into Towanda Creek.

The Susquehanna River supplies drinking water for nearly 6.2 million people and sensitive fish populations like the American shad and striped bass are moving into the Susquehanna flats at this time of year, the attorney general explained.

Exposure to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in unknown quantities creates a risk of imminent and substantial endangerment to humans using Pennsylvania and Maryland waterways for recreation and to the environment, he said.

"Companies cannot expose citizens to dangerous chemicals that pose serious health risks to the environment and to public health," Gansler said in a statement. "We are using all resources available to hold Chesapeake Energy accountable for its actions."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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