WHEELING, W.Va. — Federal investigators hope the $600,000 criminal penalty Trans Energy Inc. will pay for impounding three Marshall County streams to build frack ponds for Marcellus shale natural gas extraction discourages other firms from violating the Clean Water Act.
When combined with the $3 million fine St. Marys, W.Va.-based Trans Energy previously agreed to forfeit for civil violations of the act, the company will pay $3.6 million worth of criminal and civil penalties related to unlawful creek dredging.
“Trans Energy, a small West Virginia-based company, has accepted responsibility for these misdemeanor charges of negligently violating the Clean Water Act,” company president John G. Corp said following the Wednesday hearing in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. “The company is committed to meeting all regulatory obligations through updating training procedures and compliance protocols.”
Corp signed the plea agreement entered Wednesday. Attorneys representing the company and the Environmental Protection Agency reached the agreement, which includes a $200,000 fine for each of the three criminal violations. The company will also serve two years of probationl.
The Clean Water Act specifically prohibits the discharge of any pollutant from a point source into the waters of the United States without a permit. Discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States are prohibited, unless authorized by a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Trans Energy has fully cooperated with EPA and federal authorities since the very first day the company became aware of the permitting issues identified by the government,” Corp added.
“We will vigorously enforce the Clean Water Act,” EPA Special Agent in Charge David McLeod Jr. said when asked if he believed other drillers had committed similar violations in northern West Virginia.
Trans Energy is one of several natural gas producers with active operations in Marshall County, as the company’s website states that it holds 12,367 leasehold acres there, while claiming 28,659 acres in Wetzel County.
According to the complaint and agreement, contractors working on behalf of Trans Energy dumped rock, sand, soil and stone into Wolf Run, North Fork of Grave Creek and Left Fork of Maggoty Run in Marshall County from 2009-2011. All of these streams eventually lead to the Ohio River, which means the company needed to obtain permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to perform such work.
“Altering wetlands can significantly impact water quality and wildlife. By holding violators accountable, EPA is protecting valuable wetlands as well as the communities around them,” McLeod said.
McLeod said he did not know for certain if the work would have been allowed if Trans Energy would have taken the proper steps to apply for permission.
“As part of our commitment to safe development of domestic energy supplies, EPA is working to protect wetlands and local water supplies on which communities depend,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, regarding the $3 million worth of civil penalties. “By enforcing environmental laws, we’re helping to ensure a level playing field for responsible businesses.”