BLOSSBURG - The state Department of Environmental Protection has fined a Marcellus Shale natural gas driller $40,000 and ordered it to correct multiple violations after discovering that the company illegally built an impoundment on "exceptional value" wetlands in the Tioga State Forest, jeopardizing an "important natural resource," according to community relations coordinator Dan Spadoni.
According to Spadoni, DEP inspected the Bloss Township site in March during an "unannounced" inspection and found that Seneca Resources Corp., of Brookville, had filled nearly 1 acre of "exceptional value" wetland without authorization, improperly built an impoundment, and caused sediment runoff by failing to institute erosion control best management practices.
According to Spadoni, the drilling company had been issued an Erosion and Sediment Control General Permit No. 1, which also was an "expedited" permit to build the fresh water impoundment to support gas well hydrofracturing activities in the area in November 2009, but that they had not put it in the right place, instead it was too close to Johnson Creek flood plain, a wild trout stream.
"They didn't use best practices during the earth moving activities. They had a permit to have it there but it was not built where it was supposed to be built, which was in that area, but it was not to impact any exceptional value wetlands," he said.
Spadoni explained the way the process works for the expedited permit, is "DEP does an administration completeness review, to make sure all the information and signatures are there, but if that is signed and sealed by a licensed geologist and engineer, the assumption is that everything in the application is correct and in compliance with environmental laws and regulations."
Wetlands are normally home to a number of plants and different types of aquatic animals, Spadoni said.
According to Spadoni, the company was issued a notice of violation and ordered to remove the impoundment.
"We said they would have to submit a wetland restoration and mitigation plan, which they did, we approved it and that is now in process," he added.
Seneca has removed fill from the impacted wetland, but not finished final grading or constructed the new, 0.86-acre exceptional value wetland.
"They may have to bring in and plant certain types of aquatic vegetation," Spadoni said.
The unauthorized fill in a wetland and sediment runoff were violations of the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law and the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act.
"Wetlands are highly protected in Pennsylvania for a number of reasons, but largely because many plant and animal species depend on them for survival," said DEP North-central Regional Director Nels Taber.
"Beyond that, they improve water quality providing a natural purification system, add to a healthy environment, and help control flooding. It's important that we do everything possible to protect them, that's why DEP requires a permit before a wetland can be impacted."
Exceptional value wetlands receive special protection under DEP's Chapter 105 Dam Safety and Waterway Management regulations based on certain characteristics.
For more information, call 327-3659 or visit www.depweb.state.pa.us.