Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules for clarification in groundwater contamination suit

A divided Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has reversed a ruling by the state’s Commonwealth Court and determined that EQT Production Company is entitled to clarification of penalties assessed to the hydraulic fracturing company for violations pertaining to groundwater contamination, according to Mealey’s Fracking Report. Mealey’s says the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had sued EQT, contending the company’s discharge of contaminated water from its subsurface impoundments implicated civil penalties under the state’s Clean Streams Law. DEP proposed a settlement of $1.27 million to cover the company’s alleged violations of the law. However, EQT disputed the DEP’s approach to applying the law, arguing “the penalties could not exceed those accrued during the time period in which the contaminants were actually discharged from the company’s impoundments.” Mealey’s says the Commonwealth Court sustained DEP’s preliminary objections to EQT’s action “on the basis that exclusive authority to determine the appropriated penalty was the purview of the [state’s] Environmental Hearing Board.” EQT then appealed to the Supreme Court in EQT Production Co. v. Dept. of Environmental Protection of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pa. Sup. Ct., No. 15 MAP 2015.  There, a majority of the Court held that EQT is entitled to clarification by the Commonwealth Court “concerning the statutes establishing the parameters of the company’s penalty exposure so that it may have the opportunity to organize its affairs accordingly.”

Oil & Gas Litigation, Pennsylvania