Michigan cites Encana for spilling over 300 gallons of fracking waste water

A hydraulic fracturing site is viewed on June 19, 2012 in South Montrose, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

LANSING, Mich. – A Canadian energy company has been cited for spilling 300 to 400 gallons of water, brine and fracking fluids into the ground on the site of a well in northern Michigan.

The Michigan state Department of Environmental Quality this week issued a violation notice to Encana Oil and Gas Inc. for an incident that occurred July 15 in Kalkaska County’s Garfield Township. The spill was related to hydraulic fracturing, which releases natural gas trapped in deep underground rock formations.

Calgary-based Encana, which finished fracking the well last December, was drilling out the plug and cleaning out the well hole to prepare for production testing. But water pumped back to the surface inadvertently leaked from a steel tank because a valve connecting to other tanks was kept closed.

The state said there’s no lasting environmental damage, though testing continues, and said Encana quickly and effectively cleaned up the site.

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“We’re doing it because it was a preventable accident,” DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said of the violation notice.

No fine was issued. Encana instead will be subject to graduated enforcement because it’s the company’s first violation, Wurfel said.

An Encana spokeswoman said Friday that soil samples are being tested, but the company’s confident in the cleanup.

“It was pretty much contained on location,” Bridget Ford said.

Water is required to be stored in tanks until it can be trucked to a deep disposal well. Plastic liners with perimeter berms had been installed under the tanks as required by the state, according to the state.

The big concern with such spills is ensuring chloride in the flowback water doesn’t spill and contaminate the water table underground, Wurfel said. Soil samples were analyzed for chloride, benzene and other oil and gas components.

Concentrations were below levels of detection except for chloride, which was “well below” cleanup standards, Wurfel said.

Fracking has become a hot political issue in Michigan and elsewhere. It involves pumping huge volumes of water laced with chemicals and sand at high pressure into wells that can extend a mile or more underground. State regulators and industry representatives say the process is environmentally sound, but critics say it can pollute surface and ground water and threaten air and soil quality.

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The DEQ says fracking has been used in about 12,000 Michigan wells over the past 50 years without harming the environment. But the industry is stepping up drilling in shale formations deeper than most of those targeted before, requiring greater volumes of water.

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