The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the ability to fine Chesapeake Energy as much as $200,000 per day for alleged unauthorized stream filling in Wetzel and Marshall counties.
The Oklahoma City-based company received four separate "Order for Compliance" forms from the EPA, citing the driller for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act. The orders show the earthwork occurred at various points from January 2007 through this month.
Chesapeake spokesman Matt Sheppard noted the company is working with the EPA to address what he termed "isolated issues," adding, "As this matter is currently undergoing federal regulatory review, it would be inappropriate to offer public comment at this time."
These photos provided by Ed Wade Jr. illustrate the damage done to what once was a waterfall at Blake Fork in Wetzel County. Additional photos and information on similar destructive activities can be found on the Wetzel County Action Group Web site, www.wcag-wv.org.
"Chesapeake Appalachia LLC is committed to the responsible development of our clean-burning, domestic natural gas resources and environmental stewardship," Sheppard added of the Oklahoma City company's local subsidiary.
Lifelong Wetzel County resident Ed Wade, however, is skeptical that Chesapeake wants to correct the problems. A member of the Wetzel County Action Group, Wade said Chesapeake "has been doing these things for years."
"They're just like a bunch of little kids - if they think they can get away with it, they will do it," Wade said of Chesapeake.
Each of the four orders notes at the end that fines of up to $50,000 per day may be imposed if Chesapeake does not follow the instructions, hence the possibility of $200,000 in fines each day. The compliance orders compel Chesapeake to remove the fill and restore the streams and wetlands "to pre-disturbance conditions" and "requires mitigation for the environmental harm which was caused by the unlawful discharge to waters of the United States."
EPA spokeswoman Donna Heron said Chesapeake officials have indicated the company intends to comply with the orders, which should allow the firm to avoid any fines.
One violation stems from creating a gravel road in the stream channel of Blake Fork, about 2.4 miles north of the intersection of County Road 1/13 and state Route 89, near Proctor. Chesapeake removed the stream and a small waterfall to create a gravel road.
"They need to put the waterfall back," Wade said. "If we can send a man to the moon, they can rebuild that waterfall."
Blake Fork and three other streams affected by Chesapeake's drilling activities are tributaries of Fish Creek, which flows into the Ohio River.
Another violation involves the impoundment of an unnamed tributary to Laurel Run between January 2007 and December 2009. The stream was located on David Evick's property, roughly 2,000 feet east of Greenfield Ridge in Cameron.
Another order involved constructing the Gordon Stansberry well pad about 2.2 miles north of state Route 89.
This project also included the burial of an underground pipeline.
The final citation is for building the Chesapeake "B" well pad, along with the widening of Lynn Camp Road, also located north of state Route 89.
These federal orders are not the only citations against Chesapeake. West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection records show the firm has five violations that "have not been closed or abated" in Wetzel and Marshall counties.
These include tank overflow, spills reporting, and reclamation violations for a Wetzel County site on April 28. The "non-prevention gas waste, pollutions of waters of state during drilling" violations on Sept. 21 resulted from the gas well ignition on Pleasants Ridge, near Cameron.
Wade said one of the main problems involving the natural gas development is that "everybody just sees the money."
"They don't think about the problems this stuff is causing for the people living out here," he said.
Noting he is not opposed to natural gas use, Wade said he just "doesn't want to see the environment torn up to get it."
Fellow action group member Bill Hughes said Chesapeake may be having issues with subcontractors.
"Chesapeake seems to have a problem getting control of their subcontractors, possibly because they have so many of them and there seems to be a large turnover among them," he said. "Chesapeake can always say someone else was responsible."
Hughes continued, "Chesapeake knows that the state does not have anywhere near enough inspectors - therefore they can pretty much do what they want and then move on to the next site because the state inspectors will never catch up with them."
Currently, state legislators and DEP Secretary Randy Huffman are looking at ways to increase the number of gas inspectors from the current 17.One plan calls for possibly raising the cost for drilling a well from $600 to $15,000.