January 28, 2010 KEITHVILLE — Chesapeake Energy Corp. and contractor Schlumberger Technology Corp. could be penalized in connection with an inquiry into the deaths April 28 of 17 cows that ingested liquid spilled from a natural gas well site in south Caddo.
While the investigation is incomplete, the state Department of Environmental Quality noted three violations, according to Assistant Secretary Peggy Hatch's letter posted online.
So the spilled material, which includes a proprietary blend of non-hazardous materials used for well fracturing, had been on the ground long enough to constitute solid waste disposal, DEQ alleges.
The penalty notices require Chesapeake and Schlumberger to submit annual gross revenue statements and a statement of monetary benefits of noncompliance for each violation. If no monetary benefits were gained, the assertion must be justified, Hatch says in the letter.
DEQ may seek civil penalties and compliance for each violation. "We can't really determine right now what that would be," spokesman Tim Beckstron said Wednesday. "It's decided on a case-by-case basis "» and each scenario is different."
DEQ issued the notices Jan. 15 and mailed them Jan. 19. Each company has 10 days to request a meeting with DEQ or submit comments prior to enforcement action. The timeline starts once the certified letters are received, Beckstron said. "We've not gotten a return receipt yet."
Chesapeake, which has received the letter, is deferring comment until it can review the notice in detail and meet with DEQ, Kevin McCotter, the company's senior director of corporate development in Louisiana, says in an e-mail to The Times.
The cows died in a pasture Cecil and Tyler Williams own in Spring Ridge. Schlumberger was performing routine fracturing operations for well owner Chesapeake when some of the fluid leaked from the well pad then into the pasture after a rain.
Elevated chlorides, a salt, as well as oil and grease and some organic compounds were detected in the liquid.
A preliminary necropsy report by the Louisiana Animal Disease Medical Laboratory at LSU in Baton Rouge is among documents in DEQ's public records database. The report does not determine the cause of death and notes a toxicology report was pending.
The report states the one cow tested suffered from severe pulmonary hemorrhage and edema. Witnesses to the cows' deaths described them as bellowing and bleeding before falling over dead.
Earlier this month, DEQ spokesman Rodney Mallet said an in-house toxicologist reviewed the necropsy report, and a third veterinarian was to be brought in to verify the results.
A Jan. 12 letter from Christine B. Navarre, an LSU AgCenter veterinarian, informs DEQ environmental scientist Wayne R. Slater that she studied the information included in a report Dec. 2 from Dr. June Sutherlin. "Dr. Sutherlin's report is very thorough and I concur with her observations," the letter states.