Chesapeake fined $600,000 in W.Va. waterfall case

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WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) – A federal judge fined Chesapeake Appalachia $600,000 Monday for destroying a Wetzel County waterfall while constructing a well pad.


U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. also ordered the company, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy, to spend two years on supervised release during a sentencing hearing in Wheeling.


In October, the company pleaded guilty to three violations of the federal Clean Water Act. It was accused of illegally discharging 60 tons of crushed stone and gravel into Blake Fork at least three times in December 2008, then spreading that material to build a road.


Inspectors found the problem in 2010.


Chesapeake Appalachia was fined $200,000 per violation.


Under the plea agreement, separate violations for impoundments in Marshall and Wetzel counties will be addressed with civil penalties instead of criminal charges.


“The defendants knowingly and repeatedly obliterated sensitive wetlands,” said David G. McLeod Jr., special agent in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in West Virginia. “Companies and their managers who try to skirt the law to save money undermine our efforts to protect the public and the environment. Make no mistake, they will be vigorously prosecuted.”


Chesapeake Appalachia said it has removed the gravel and restored the site in cooperation with the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


“Chesapeake Appalachia remains fully committed to regulatory compliance and promptly instituted additional training and oversight to help ensure that our regulatory obligations are met,” the company said in a statement.


The sentencing came the same day U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld announced the formation of a task force to monitor companies’ compliance with environmental laws as they extract natural gas and other resources.


Members of the West Virginia Natural Resource Watch Group will include representatives from federal, state and local agencies.


“It’s critical that we keep a close eye on the energy extraction that is going on all around us,” Ihlenfeld said in a news release. “The economic impact that it’s having on our area is wonderful but we must make sure that our natural resources are not compromised and that future generations have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe.”


He said the task force will identify suspected violations of environmental laws, coordinate prosecution efforts and provide training. It also will promote information sharing and consistent communication among law enforcement and regulatory agencies.


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