Marcellus Shale driller plans to close Amwell impoundment

This Google Earth image shows Range Resources’ Yeager impoundment in Amwell Township.

State environmental regulators are reviewing plans by Range Resources to close an impoundment in Amwell Township that has been at the center of a two-year legal battle by nearby residents to get the company to disclose all fluids and chemicals at the site.

Range notified the state Department of Environmental Protection March 3 that it intended to close the Yeager impoundment near McAdams Road and remediate the site, even though drillers are not required to file a formal application when removing impoundments.

DEP spokesman John Poister said the department’s workers are reviewing the application and are expected to respond to Range later this week. He said before any impoundment construction permit is approved, the company must first provide a reclamation plan and can close the pit at any time it pleases before notifying the DEP. That makes this formal application unusual, he said.

“If a drilling company wants to close the impoundment, they can just do that and don’t have to tell us in advance,” Poister said. “Because a lot of attention has been paid to Yeager in the paper and with some legal actions, Range thought it would be in the public’s interest to submit an official closure plan.”

Those legal actions include a lawsuit filed in July 2012 by eight Amwell residents who claimed drilling on the site contaminated their well water. Last November, Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca ordered the 40 contractors and subcontractors working on the site to provide the court with all chemicals, components or substances used there since 2009. O’Dell Seneca and Environmental Hearing Board Judge Thomas Renwand ruled in June that Range should provide the chemicals used at the site after the contractors were either unable or unwilling to do so by the 30-day deadline.

It was not known if the closure of the impoundment would affect those orders to reveal chemicals used at the site. Cecil-based attorney John Smith, who represented the Amwell residents involved in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.

Mark Windle, a Range spokesman, said the company voluntarily provided the impoundment reclamation plan to DEP to offer additional engineering details about the closure. He would not say why the company has decided to close the impoundment.

“We have been in discussions with the DEP for several months on reclaiming the Yeager impoundment,” Windle wrote in an email. “The timeline is dependent upon the weather and other operational factors.”

Poister said the formal application to DEP is unusual since the impoundment closure plan must be included in the original dam permit. He was not sure if there were any changes in the new application, or if regulators would accept the plans as submitted or ask the company to make changes. Poister added there would be “fairly extensive soil and water tests” after the reclamation to ensure there was no impact to the environment.

“(Range) wanted to go through this process, so DEP is now involved,” Poister said. “There may be some tweaks in their original closure plan in the initial permit.”

The Yeager impoundment was built in 2010 and issued its dam permit by the DEP in June of that year. Online records show Range was cited in August 2010 for failing to properly control or dispose of industrial or residual waste on the site. The company was cited again on April 8 of this year for failing to adopt pollution prevention measures for handling “materials that create a danger of pollution” to the environment, according to DEP records.

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