Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cabot removes fluids from problem pit

By Laura Legere,
The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
May 4, 2010


Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. finished removing fluids and sediment from a suspected faulty gas drilling waste pit in Dimock Twp. on Monday, the first in a series of steps the company must take to fulfill a corrective order issued Thursday by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP said liquid waste from the pit at the Hibbard 2H and 4H well sites seeped through tears in the liner into a roadside ditch, a private unused drinking water well, two springs and a wetland.

A regional DEP director also said Cabot had shown "an arrogant disregard" for the environment and the state's regulations by not responding to earlier requests to close the pit.

Cabot spokesman George Stark said the company's tests showed the composition of the fluid in the pit did not match the fluid in the ditch, and Cabot had been working daily with the department on the "science side" of the issue. But the company moved to close the pit "once it became clear that the department would like to see the pit closed."

Two representatives from DEP's oil and gas and environmental cleanup programs were on the Hibbard pad on Monday to oversee Cabot's work. They will inspect and photograph the pit liner before Cabot begins to close and remove the pit later this week, department spokesman Daniel Spadoni said.

Cabot must also submit a plan later this week for determining the extent of contamination in the soil, groundwater and surface water.

Mr. Stark said one of the wells drilled on the Hibbard pad has not yet been hydraulically fractured - the process of breaking apart the gas-bearing rock with water, chemicals and sand that is necessary to produce the gas - but Cabot does not expect the closure of the pit to impact future work on the site.

"Cabot is making every effort to utilize a closed-loop system, where we would not be utilizing a pit moving forward," he said. In a closed-loop system, drilling fluids and waste drawn from a well are piped to closed tanks rather than open earthen pits, which helps to minimize the risk of seeps and overflows.

Mr. Stark said the company is seeking to transition to closed-loop systems at all of its well sites, but a lack of available equipment for the systems makes the switch difficult.

He also said Cabot is continuing an internal investigation into DEP reports that trucks were dumping black fluid into the Hibbard pit on March 17, including identifying which contractor was doing the dumping.

Mr. Spadoni, the DEP spokesman, said the dumping was not necessarily a violation of state drilling regulations.

"It may depend on what was being dumped in there," he said.

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