PITTSBURGH, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Regulators with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have fined oil and gas company Range Resources $4.15 million for environmental violations related to its fracking operations in the Marcellus shale.
It's the largest fine for fracking issued in the state of Pennsylvania -- a state rich in the shale deposits coveted by hydraulic fracturing companies.
Range Resources was fined for a series of pollution violations over the course of several years, including a number of leaks at wastewater impoundment ponds between 2009 and 2014 -- leaks which environmental officials say contaminated the surrounding soil and groundwater.
Fracking is the process by which drillers extract gas trapped in shale rock by blasting it with highly-pressurized water. The water is mixed with a range of chemicals to enable it to withstand the high pressure and temperatures. Once the gas is separated from the water, the toxic wastewater must then be stored securely. The method of choice is to store it in impoundment ponds.
The wastewater impoundments of Texas-based Range Resources were apparently not up to snuff. In addition to paying the financial penalties, the company will be forced to close five of their offending impoundments and upgrade their storage facilities to meet stricter state standards.
"This action reaffirms the administration's unwavering commitment to protecting Pennsylvania's soil and water resources," DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo said in a press release. "This landmark consent order establishes a new, higher benchmark for companies to meet when designing future impoundments, which is an environmental win for Pennsylvania."
But not everyone in the state is buying that the record fine is entirely good news. State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, said environmental officials knew about these problems and waited to act.
"This action is about looking good, not doing good," White told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The DEP will try to spin this but the $4 million is just the price of doing business for Range."
Range Resources earned $765.5 million in revenues during the second quarter of 2014.