What we do have is the Office of Oil and Gas' verbal statement that the spill consisted of fracture flowback from a Marcellus well. We know that an operator and well received a Notice of Violation.
What we don't know is when the spill actually occurred. Material on the banks of the creek and on stones by the creek made marks that showed that the water level had dropped since the spill took place.
We also don't know the source of the spill, but it is assumed it was a breached pit.
Pits in this state and the waste they hold are regulated by the Office of Oil and Gas. A General Water Pollution Control Permit at the time of the spill had requirements for immediate reporting if there is a spill or accidental discharge from a pit.
Regulations that come into effect with a spill include 35CSR1.3 which requires notification within 24-hours of a "reportable discharge." Reportable discharges include those covered by section 311(b) of the Clean Water Act. 40CFR110.3 pertains to oil discharges "in such quantities as may be harmful" pursuant to section 311(b)(4) of the Act. These include discharges that "cause a film or sheen or discoloration of the surface of the water." The spill at Buckeye Creek seems to be both a clear violation of the Clean Water Act and also the reporting requirements of 35CSR1.3. If the spill was caused by a breached pit, that would be covered by 35CSR4.16.4.
A photograph of the well site taken on 26 September shows some issues:
The circle at A is a pump located on the bank above the creek. It appears to have been used for dewatering the creek (filling the large impoundment nearby). The state has no regulation with a limitation for the minimum distance a pit can be to surface water. In this case, the pit is constructed next to a creek with crumbling banks and a continually changing course.
The circle at B shows a collapsing corner. There doesn't appear to be a tear in the liner yet. The state has no guidance for the construction and maintenance of a pit and this pit's construction shows several flaws, including levee walls that are too vertical (which leads to collapse). We've seen photographs of other pits in this state where the edges of the pit liner lie unanchored on the top of the narrow levee bank. The pit liner needs to be anchored properly and the levee bank needs to be at least 2 feet wide. These construction requirements are crucial when a pit is this large.
The circle at C shows the only area where another pit could have been placed from studying the photographs of this site. If a pit had been here, it's been reclaimed. Drainage from this area would go directly to Buckeye Creek.
And, finally, the circle at D shows a large condensate storage tank without proper secondary containment (required by state and federal regulations). Photographs taken on 2 September show the secondary containment dike in place. Large red objects placed around the tank, barely visible in this photograph, might be absorbent pads. While the spill has been called a fracture flowback spill, it has many of the characteristics of a condensate spill (the high TPH).
At this point there are more questions than answers until the site is properly examined.
The Spill at Buckeye Creek
Gas Well Study is the examination of natural gas wells in West Virginia.
Underground Injection Control Class 2 Wells
These wells are used either for the disposal of oil and gas liquid waste or for the enhanced recovery of oil or natural gas.
Gas Well Study Site Visits
Annual reports, environmental assessments, and individual well information.
Select videos from the Gas Well Study YouTube channel.
What Happened at Fernow
An investigation into what caused the vegetation death in the land application area after landspraying hydraulic fracture flowback waste.
The Spill at Buckeye Creek
An investigation into a spill from a Marcellus well site into Buckeye Creek in Doddridge county.