WHEELING - U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. on Monday fined Chesapeake Appalachia $600,000 and sentenced the company to two years probation for violating the Clean Water Act in Wetzel County in 2008.
Chesapeake Appalachia, the local operating division of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy, pleaded guilty in October to three counts of unauthorized discharge into a water of the United States. Stamp fined Chesapeake $200,000 for each of the violations and sentenced the company to two years probation for each charge. Stamp ordered the probations to be served concurrently.
Chesapeake admitted to discharging 60 tons of crushed stone and gravel into Blake Fork in Wetzel County on at least three different occasions in December 2008. After discharging the stone and gravel, it then spread the material in the stream to create a roadway that would improve access to a drilling site, destroying a waterfall in the act.
"The defendants knowingly and repeatedly obliterated sensitive wetlands," said Environmental Protection Agency Special Agent in Charge David G. McLeod Jr. "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."
The Blake Fork waterfall has since been restored at Chesapeake's expense.
A Chesapeake representative in court Monday said the company accepts full responsibility for the violations. Chesapeake wants to continue its operations in northern West Virginia while maintaining the integrity of the environment, the representative added.
According to the terms of its probation, Chesapeake must report any additional violations of environmental law to the U.S. Attorney and probation officer; disclose to those two offices any company documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission; and grant the probation officer access to any company work site in the Northern District of West Virginia.
Chesapeake and federal prosecutors agreed that separate violations committed by the company and occurring in connection with impoundments constructed in Marshall and Wetzel counties would be addressed by civil penalties and not via criminal charges.
In response to resident complaints and other information, the EPA conducted a series of inspections at sites operated by Chesapeake in northern West Virginia. As a result of those inspections, the EPA issued 11 administrative compliance orders. Chesapeake has complied with and/or sought and received extensions for all requirements of the orders.
"It's critical that we keep a close eye on the energy extraction that is going on all around us," U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said. "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."
To help ensure environmental vigilance, Ihlenfeld on Monday also announced the formation of the West Virginia Natural Resource Watch Group - a task force that he said will ensure compliance with environmental laws and promote respect for the state's natural resources.