Chesapeake Energy Pays $500,000 for Monitoring Susquehanna Water Quality after Pa. 'Fracking' Blowout

BALTIMORE—Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced on June 14 that the Chesapeake Energy Corporation has agreed to donate $500,000 to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission for water quality monitoring within the river basin. The payment follows the Attorney General’s negotiations with Chesapeake Energy after an April 19, 2011 blowout of a natural gas drilling site resulted in the release of “fracking fluids” into Pennsylvania’s Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River.

“Our goal is to protect the water quality of the Susquehanna River, which supplies drinking water to over six million residents and almost half of the fresh water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay,” said Attorney General Gansler. “We’re putting drilling companies on notice that any threat to Maryland’s water quality will be taken seriously, regardless of where that threat originated.”

In addition to providing significant financial support to water quality monitoring within the river basin, Chesapeake has also agreed to implement certain best practices designed to minimize the effect that its drilling activities have on water quality and the environment.

During the gas well blowout near Leroy Township in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, fracking fluids escaped containment, crossed over neighboring farm fields, and entered into a tributary of Towanda Creek. Within days, Attorney General Gansler filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the Oklahoma-based company for endangering the health of Maryland residents and the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. Attorney General Gansler acted with the support of Governor Martin O'Malley and the Maryland Department of the Environment, which provided technical assistance in support of the action.

In addition to supplying the drinking water for approximately 6.2 million people, the Susquehanna River is home to sensitive Bay fish populations such as the American shad and striped bass. Exposure to unknown quantities of potentially toxic and carcinogenic “fracking” chemicals put the Bay, its wildlife and millions of Maryland and Pennsylvania residents at risk.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission was created by compact in 1970, adopted by the Congress of the United States, and the legislatures of Maryland, New York State and Pennsylvania to guide the conservation, development, and administration of the water resources of the vast river basin. The Commission is comprised of leading environmental officials from the three states plus the federal government, including Dr. Robert M. Summers, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The Susquehanna River Basin is situated above the underground Marcellus Shale rock formation that spans portions of Western Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Marcellus Shale is estimated to contain approximately 250 to 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale are extracted through a process of vertical and horizontal drilling known as hydraulic fracturing or “hydrofracking” or just “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. Pumped into the well at high pressure, the fluids fracture rock formations in the shale and release natural gas, which is then extracted. These fluids are referred to as “drilling fluids, “fracturing fluids,” or “fracking fluids.”

Although the precise mixture of these fracking fluids varies by company, a recent Congressional study found that they contain 750 different chemicals and other components, including several extremely toxic compounds. High levels of these contaminants can remain in the fracking fluid that returns to the surface as wastewater after a well has been hydrofracked. This wastewater, referred to as “flowback water,” is then contained at the well site, either to be recycled or hauled away for disposal. Flowback water can also contain high levels of radioactive materials.

Source: Office of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler

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