Shell Falcon Pipeline Charged with Failures to Report Drilling Issues that Caused Industrial Waste, Potential Pollution of Water

April 19, 2024 | Topic: Criminal

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Michelle Henry announced the filing of charges against Shell Falcon Pipeline LP for violations of Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law regarding construction of a 45-mile pipeline in western Pennsylvania.

The Office of Attorney General’s investigation revealed that Shell allegedly failed to notify the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about multiple issues that the company encountered during some of the horizontal directional drills (HDD) that were utilized to construct some portions of the pipeline. Specifically, there were times when the drill lost drilling mud, which often contains pollutants, underground and in some instances the mud came to the surface in unintended locations.

The Office of Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Section filed 13 misdemeanor charges Friday at Magisterial District Judge Louis McQuillan’s office in Washington County.

“Pennsylvania’s environmental laws are in place to keep families and communities safe from harm caused by major construction projects, such as pipelines,” Attorney General Henry said. “This company chose to ignore those laws and kept quiet issues that should have been disclosed to prevent potential impacts. Pennsylvanians have rights to clean air and water, and as we mark Earth Day this weekend, my office reaffirms its commitment to protecting those basic freedoms.”

Construction of the pipeline, which spanned through Washington, Allegheny and Beaver Counties, began in January 2019.

During horizontal directional drilling construction, drilling mud must be used to lubricate the drill bit and to stabilize the hole. Sometimes, this mud can travel outside of the bore path underground through fractures or voids in the rock. This “lost” mud has the potential to surface in unintended locations, including wetlands or surface water, or to travel through these fractures and impact groundwater. At this point in the drilling process, the mud is an industrial waste and ultimately results in pollution wherever it ends up — which happened during Shell construction.

According to the charging documents, Shell contractors did not report to the DEP all of these “losses of circulation” or the resulting returns to areas beyond the drill path, including surface waters and wetlands.

In addition, Shell allegedly failed to install real-time data logging devices on its drilling equipment, in violation of its permit.

Thirteen charges were filed Friday: seven counts of unlawful conduct (under the Clean Streams Law), three counts of prohibition against discharge of industrial wastes, and three counts of prohibition against other pollutions.

The case will be prosecuted by the Office of Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Section. All charges are accusations. The defendant is innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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