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March 31, 2010 near West Middletown, Pa
Hopewell Township - Washington County

Atlas to pay nearly $85K in environmental case

10/19/2012 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday Atlas Resources LLC will pay an $84,506 penalty to settle alleged air and hazardous chemical violations at its natural gas production facility in Avella. The EPA cited the company for violating the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act )EPCRA), a federal law designed to inform the public and emergency responders about hazardous and toxic chemicals in their communities.

The EPA alleged Atlas failed to provide state and local emergency responders required information on hazardous chemicals stored at the company’s Avella production facility during 2008 and 2009. The agency also alleged Atlas did not comply with proper storage and handling of natural gas condensate at the site. The EPA’s investigation at various Atlas production wells in Washington County also indicated the presence of vapor releases from condensate tanks. Currently, Atlas has discontinued operation of its natural gas extraction wells in Washington County until the company completes audits at eight of its production facilities located there.

Shortly after 8:00am on a Wednesday morning in March 2010, a frac pit fire erupted at an Atlas Energy Resources Marcellus gas well location, shooting flames 300 to 400 feet into the air. A witness compared the sound of the ignition to throwing a match on a pile of wood saturated with gasoline...

The frack pit at this eight gas well location, Cowden #6, 7, 9, 10, 11 12, 15, & 16, along with two frack pits at the nearby Cowden #17 gas well location, had been the source of nauseating fumes all week.
The chemical / hydrocarbon odors were so bad that a neighbor phoned a complaint into the Pennsylvania DEP three days prior to this fire, voicing health concerns for their children and themselves, having had to breath these pit fumes for several days. What health effects could it have on them? The fumes were actually bad enough for them to evacuate their home. In addition to the sickening fumes, a hydrocarbon sheen was clearly visible on the surface of the two closer frac pits at Cowden #17, indicating the presence of VOC's and a strong potential for explosive vapors.
Following combustion of the frac pit at the 8-well location, the heat from the fire was so intense that it burned the pit liner, allowing contaminated pit fluids to seep into surrounding soil.
Some of the first responders had difficulty locating the site of the fire, thereby delaying their response. As of this posting, a DEP fine had not yet been announced for this pit fire, however, one was issued for wastewater spill incidents related to the two nearby frac pits. That DEP press release is shown below.


ATLAS Energy Resources, LLC - Cowden well sign

COWDEN #6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16
Cowden well site near West Middletown
View of the Cowden well location from the road below
Atlas Energy - Cowden wells - Washington County
View of the Cowden well location from West Middletown Cemetery
Stream below the Cowden well location is full of foam
This type of foam in streams is often attributed to the
MBAS used in fracking shale gas wells
Atlas pit fire at Cowden wells
Atlas Energy frac pit fire still burning strong,
 30-minutes after the initial combustion
Permit Num: 125-23392
Municipality: Hopewell
County: Washington
Well Name: Cowden 10
Company: Atlas Resources
Incident Date: 3/31/2010
Inspection Date: 3/31/2010
Fine Date: 2011-11-09
Fine: $80,000
Group Fine:No  
Violation: Spill and fire; condensate gas mixed with hydraulic fracturing flowback fluid in a pit on the well site ignited and exploded into a fireball that also caught a frack tank that had a similar mixture in it to also ignite; the fire pit burned out in half an hour, but it took six hours for the tank fire to be extinguished; the fire burned the liner in the pit, which allowed an unknown amount of flowback fluids to spill onto and into the soil beneath the liner; no one was injured because of the fire.
Response: Company determined that the fire was ignited when a light generator, which was just 10 feet from the drill pit, backfired, causing the low-lying gas vapors from the condensate to explode; the impacted soil in the pit was excavated and disposed of in a landfill; because of this the company began using frack tanks that prevented  condensate gas from escaping from the tanks at all of its well sites; the company also stopped using open pits for condensate separation, using tanks instead; the company also began restricting access to sensitive areas of well sites by vehicles and other potential ignition sources; and the company required well sites to use a windsock on site as well as install lower explosive level monitors.

Permit Num: 125-23394
Municipality: Hopewell
County: Washington
Well Name: Cowden 15
Company: Atlas Resources
Incident Date: 11/5/2008
Inspection Date: 11/5/2008
Fine Date: 2009-11-18
Fine: $58,000
Group Fine: Yes (7) 125-23270 (4)
Violation: Failure to obtain an erosion and sedimentation control general permit from the state for a site larger than five acres; a state inspector found that the company had begun construction of the site without obtaining the state permit for a site that was 7.5 acres; the company also failed to install any erosion and sedimentation control best management practices during construction on a site located in the Buffalo Creek high quality watershed.
Response: Company obtained a state permit and installed erosion and sedimentation controls; but there is no written response from the company in the file so it is not clear why the company began construction without a permit or failed to install the controls.

Frac pit on fire
The black smoke trail lingered in the sky 10-miles away
First responders at frack pit fire
Volunteer firefighters on the scene
Marcellus gas well fracking pit fire extinguished
Pit still smoldering as the flames diminish
Cowden #17 frack pits
Two frack pits at the nearby Cowden 17 well location had
a hydrocarbon sheen on the surface of the pit fluids,
creating a chemical odor and concern about a
similar fire taking place. These pits were the
subject of a DEP fine three months prior:

Dept. of Environmental Protection

Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA., 17120


CONTACT: Katy Gresh, Department of Environmental Protection Southwest Regional Office  412-442-4203

DEP Fines Atlas Resources for Drilling Wastewater Spill in Washington County

PITTSBURGH -- The Department of Environmental Protection has fined Atlas Resources LLC $97,350 for allowing used hydraulic fracturing fluids to overfill a wastewater pit and contaminate a high-quality watershed in Hopewell Township, Washington County.

The violations were discovered on Dec. 5 and 6, 2009, at the Cowden 17 gas well on Old Trail Road off Route 844. Once the unknown quantity of fluid overflowed the impoundment’s banks, it ran over the ground and into a tributary of Dunkle Run.

“It is unacceptable for drilling companies in Pennsylvania to threaten public safety or harm the environment through careless acts, such as this,” DEP Southwest Regional Director George Jugovic Jr. said. “The Marcellus Shale offers significant economic opportunities for Pennsylvania, but these companies must adopt operating standards that prevent these sorts of accidents and they must make protecting our water resources a top priority.”

This spill violated Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act and Solid Waste Management Act, as well as the state’s Clean Streams Law. Atlas corrected the problem once it was discovered, but failed to report it to DEP.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process during which liquid is pumped under high pressure down a well and into a rock formation. This causes the formation to crack open and form passages through which natural gas can flow into the borehole.

Properly cased and cemented wells prevent the fluid from entering ground water supplies. Diluted frack fluids are classified as residual waste under Pennsylvania’s Solid Waste Management Act and industrial waste under the state Clean Streams Law.



Other Marcellus Shale Fires


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