Gov. Tom Wolf's administration on Monday told Range Resources that it must fix a Marcellus Shale natural gas well “once and for all” that it maintains has leaked methane since 2011 and contaminated groundwater and streams in north-central Pennsylvania.
Wolf's Department of Environmental Protection in 2015 issued — and then later rescinded — $8.9 million in fines over the well to its Fort Worth, Texas-based owner, which contends that the Lycoming County well is not the source of the methane contamination.
The department insisted Monday that the Harman Lewis well's cement casing is defective and that Range Resources' cooperation is sporadic.
The department's 13-page order issued Monday gives Range Resources two months to submit a plan to reduce the gas migration and, after the department approves the plan, four months to submit a plan to plug the well and a bore hole next to it.
“We have attempted to resolve this in good faith but after numerous attempts, the operator still has not completely addressed these violations,” Patrick McDonnell, Wolf's environmental protection secretary, said in a statement.
Range Resources' refusal to accept responsibility and address the problem “is unacceptable," McDonnell said, and the order is designed to solve the problem “once and for all."
The well has never been a producing well connected to pipelines, according to Range Resources and the department.
A Range Resources spokesman, Mark Windle, said the company strongly disagrees with the department's order.
"We have worked tirelessly to fully cooperate with both regulators and nearby residents for years despite extensive third-party studies and analysis that determined the methane in the groundwater is naturally-occurring,” Windle said in a statement.
Even so, the company said it has provided nearby residents with permanent water treatment systems.
Attempts in 2015 and 2016 to patch the cement well-casing on the Harman Lewis well apparently didn't work and, in one attempt to reenter the well bore in 2016, Range mistakenly drilled outside the casing of the gas well, leaving an open bore hole near the gas well, the department said.
Department inspectors continued to find combustible gas in groundwater, in soil surveys in nearby farm fields and surfacing on Greg's Run and Sugar Run, the department said.
Range has 30 days to appeal the order to the Environmental Hearing Board.