January 21, 2018

Mt. Pleasant Family Takes Range Resources to Court

Mt. Pleasant Township family claims Marcellus Shale drilling operations near their home contaminated their drinking water and affected their quality of life
By Emily Petsko, observer-reporter.com, November 7, 2014

A Mt. Pleasant Township family is claiming that Marcellus Shale drilling operations near their McDonald home contaminated their drinking water and affected their quality of life.

The complaint, lodged by Christopher and Janet Lauff, their child, who was not identified, and Brian Lauff, was filed in Allegheny County Court. The Lauffs argued Range Resources acted negligently in its operation of multiple well sites and a wastewater impoundment.

The Lauffs experienced “a total loss” of their well water in early 2010, at which time Range reportedly were fracking several Cowden wells located within 1,000 feet of their property. The complaint alleges their water “has been and continues to be polluted and contaminated with what is reasonably believed to be fluid or other substances from Range’s operations.”

Range denied involvement in the water contamination.

“We are still evaluating the suit, but we have not seen any evidence of health or environmental impacts,” Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said in an email. “In a more broad sense, we always look for ways to address concerns of the community as it relates to our work, and this location is no different.”

The family had to connect to a public water line and was never compensated by Range for the loss, according to the filing. They complained stormwater from the Cowden unit has flowed onto their property, causing major flooding and erosion issues. Other issues raised by the Lauffs were excessive truck traffic, noise, strong odors and bright lights.

Mt. Pleasant Township issued citations to Range for “releases of malodorous gases from these wells” on a few occasions in fall 2009, according to the complaint. The township’s zoning board also issued Range a notice of violation last year for its use of the Carter impoundment and three other impoundments in the township. Range appealed that decision, and it is pending in Washington County Court.

The lengthy court filing devotes 22 pages to complaints about the Carter impoundment on Walnut Road, which has been used to store both fresh water and wastewater since its construction in 2009. It was one of several Washington County impoundments that were the subject of a Department of Environmental Protection consent agreement, which resulted in Range being fined $4.15 million. Range can continue operating Carter, but only as a freshwater impoundment.

The Lauffs claim the Carter impoundment, which is adjacent to their property, became “a regional toxic waste dump site for over 190 wells,” according to the filing. They allege it was improperly constructed and that it was situated too close to an unnamed tributary that empties into Raccoon Creek. They complain of a documented spill and an alleged, undocumented leak at the site.

“A police report dated Dec. 12, 2012, states Range was aware of a leak in or near the Carter wastewater impoundment, first noticed by a Range supervisor in November of 2012, but DEP had no record of it ever being reported,” according to the complaint.

The complaint also names as defendants Robert Carter and Wanda Carter, who leased their property to Range. The complaint argues the Carters negotiated with Range so the impoundment would be situated as far as possible from their house, without regard to their neighbors.

Other defendants named are MarkWest, Sunoco Logistics, Highland Environmental LLC, Gateway Engineers and New Dominion Construction Inc.