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$1 million fine levied for major gas leak in western Pennsylvania

Natural gas leaks from a storage facility.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection took this photo of the leak at the Rager Mountain storage facility as part of its investigation.

A natural gas company must pay a $1.1 million fine for a major gas leak in western Pennsylvania.

The Rager Mountain storage field owned by Equitrans spewed methane gas for nearly two weeks, from Nov. 6-19, 2022. Bloomberg News called it the country’s worst climate disaster that year. Methane traps about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

People nearby could hear the loud hiss, and planes were routed around the site in Cambria County.

The Department of Environmental Protection is issuing the maximum penalty for air quality violations – $350,000.

It’s also fining Equitrans more than $764,000 under state oil and gas and solid waste laws.

DEP said Equitrans tried to stop the leak by pumping fresh water and heavy brine into the storage well. The agency said between 50-100 barrels of brine spilled onto the ground and into waterways and wetlands near the site, violating the Solid Waste Management Act. The well was plugged with cement on Nov. 20, 2022.

Equitrans estimated more than one billion cubic feet of gas was lost from the storage field, including 27,000 tons of methane. DEP said that represents about 10% of all reported methane emissions in the state that year.

It’s also nearly enough to fuel two gas-fired power plants for a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

Equitrans reported last year that it made $846 million from its operations in 2022. It said it spent $8 million on the Rager Mountain incident.

In a statement, Equitrans spokeswoman Natalie Cox said the issues of the leak and spills during plugging attempts are administratively closed. She said Equitrans has complied with and completed all required corrective actions outlined in the DEP’s orders and has agreed to pay the final civil penalty.

“In keeping with our stringent safety and environmental protocols, we appreciate the ongoing coordination and continued oversight of the PADEP,” Cox said.

DEP said it has been working “around the clock” to keep Pennsylvanians safe after this leak.

“The Department is committed to holding operators accountable, and we will continue monitoring the environmental impacts of this incident to ensure Pennsylvanians’ health and safety,” said DEP Interim Acting Secretary Jessica Shirley.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.