AG Shapiro: PA Fracking Company Pleads To Criminal Conviction in 43rd Statewide Grand Jury Investigation

June 12, 2020 | Topic: Criminal

Range Resources Accepts Responsibility For Negligent Oversight of Two Washington County Well Sites


WASHINGTON COUNTY― Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced that Range Resources, an unconventional oil and gas, or “fracking” company, has pleaded no contest to negligent oversight of well sites in Washington County, PA. The plea comes as part of a two-year Grand Jury investigation into environmental crimes committed by unconventional oil and gas companies across the Commonwealth.

“In Pennsylvania, clean air and pure water is a constitutional right, yet too often frackers from across the country come to our Commonwealth, walk into our communities, and―sometimes without care or consequence―strip us of those basic rights,” ​said Attorney General Shapiro during a video released Friday.​ “Backed by big investors and big influence, too many fracking companies act like they’re above the law, and put themselves ahead of the people who work on the job site, as well as the farmer, neighbor, and children impacted by their operations. We’re here to remind these fracking companies that the people of Pennsylvania come first.”

The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, in conjunction with the 43rd Statewide Grand Jury, criminally charged Range Resources for its conduct at the Brownlee and Yeager well sites.

Yeager Site Investigation

The Grand Jury’s investigation into the Yeager well site found that Range Resources knowingly covered up problems with their wastewater storage pond. Internal emails from Range employees showed that, even before the construction of the Yeager impoundment had been completed, they were aware of problems that included tears in the pond’s lining.  After it was operational, Range encountered additional problems, including a lack of water circulation that caused bacterial growth in the fracking water.

In addition to the problems with the leaking impoundment, Range Resources was aware of similar problems in a nearby reserve pit. The same internal documents showed that Range Resources knew the situation was dire―one email from an employee warned, “[w]e have flushed the reserve pit with approximately 30,000 gallons of water, but I fear this is nowhere near enough, based on the amount of time that the reserve pit may have been leaking.”

The problems at the reserve pit ultimately caused the Yeager family’s springs to become dangerous and unsuitable for consumption.

Brownlee Site Investigation

The actions of Range Resources were also responsible for significant environmental pollution at the Brownlee site in Washington County. In January 2018, a group of storage tanks that were capable of containing nearly 300,000 gallons of waste water were moved onto the site so that there would be a sufficient supply of water to complete the fracking of the wells on the pad. During a transfer of waste water into this group of tanks, one of the tanks began to leak. Approximately a foot of waste water filled a containment liner under the tanks. Unknown to the employees, the containment liner was not properly secured; the waste water began leaking from the containment liner into a nearby field and ultimately flowed downhill into an unnamed tributary to Buffalo Creek.

Range employees informed the land owner of the leak, but not what damage had been done to the property. The leak contaminated nearly ⅓ acres of a nearby farm and required the removal of approximately 100 trees and 12,000 square feet of soil. Range ordered its contractor to remove the contaminated trees and soil, but only ordered them to replace the remaining ditch when the property owner threatened to report the incident to the media.

Range Resources plead no contest in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas to the following charges:

On the Brownlee Pad: 1 count of Disposal, Processing & Storage of Residual Waste, 1 count of Unlawful Conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act and 1 count of Prohibition Against Discharge of Industrial Wastes

On the Yeager Pad: 2 counts of Disposal, Processing & Storage of Residual Waste and 2 counts of Unlawful Conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act

As part of the terms of their plea, Range will pay a $6,000 dollar fine to the Solid Waste Abatement Fund, $3,000 to the Clean Water Fund, and a $16,000 dollar charitable contribution to the Washington County Watershed Alliance for the Brownlee site. Range will also pay a fine in the amount of $41,000 to the Solid Waste Abatement Fund, and an $84,000 charitable contribution to the Washington County Watershed Alliance for the Yeager site.

“Today, Range Resources has answered for their actions, and they know what they’ve done as indicated by internal documents and their own plea,” concluded Attorney General Shapiro. “But this is just the beginning. We are in the first stages of a long process to hold the well-connected accountable and meet the promise of our constitution to protect our environment for generations to come. That’s why we’re here today, and why my office will uphold our Commonwealth’s environmental laws until we meet the promise of our Constitution.”

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