HARRISBURG — The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has overturned an Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) administrative order that required B&R Resources LLC and managing member Richard F. Campola “to plug 47 abandoned oil and gas wells in Erie County and Crawford County,” according to an opinion filed on March 15.
The court said the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) told Campola in December 2011 “that a number of B&R’s wells appeared to be abandoned and inquired what B&R intended to do with respect to those wells.”
In addition, Campola received four separate violation notices. The opinion said “Campola received these notices and understood that DEP was advising him that B&R was required to plug those wells.”
When the DEP asked for a written response from Campola, he sent a letter to the department, “asserting that DEP had ‘singled out’ B&R, that B&R was ‘not in any position to plug any wells at this time,’ and that ‘B&R’s intent was never to plug the wells, but to produce them,’” the Commonwealth Court’s ruling said.
When another list of wells that needed to be plugged was sent by the DEP in June 2015, the court said Campola “responded that B&R had difficulties that affected its ability to bring the wells into production, but did not commit to plugging any of the wells.”
“On June 22, 2015, DEP issued the administrative order requiring B&R and Campola to plug the wells,” according to the Commonwealth Court ruling. “The administrative order found that the wells were abandoned wells, that B&R was required to plug the wells because it was the owner and the operator of the wells and that Campola ‘personally participated’ in B&R’s failure to plug the wells and was an operator of the wells.”
Claiming that the DEP’s administrative order was premature and unwarranted and that Campola was not an operator of the wells and was not liable for B&R’s obligations on a participation theory of liability, B&R and Campola appealed the administrative order to the EHB.
“On July 15, 2016, the EHB granted [the] petitioners’ motion insofar as it sought dismissal of [the] DEP’s claim that Campola was liable as an operator of the wells,” the Commonwealth Court opinion said.
On Aug. 9, 2017, the board issued a judgment finding that “Campola was personally liable under the participation theory because he had knowledge of the violations, intentionally neglected to remedy the violations and had the authority and duty to address the violations.”
In the appellate ruling, Senior Judge James Gardner Colins said the board’s ruling was being reversed in connection with the question of how many of the wells Campola could have been held responsible for plugging.
“The EHB did not make any finding as to how many of the wells B&R could have plugged, if any, nor did it make sufficient factual findings from which such a determination can be made,” the opinion said. “Notably, although Campola testified concerning the cost of plugging a well, the EHB made no finding as to the credibility of this testimony.”
As a result, the court sent the case back to the board for a determination of “the extent of Campola’s liability, if any.”