Spotlight: SWN’s Fresh Water Neutral Commitment in Action

In 2018, several of the freshwater conservation projects we implemented as part of our Fresh Water Neutral commitment progressed to full operations. These projects are delivering significant environmental and community benefits to the areas in which we operate, in addition to offsetting the fresh water we use in our operations. Since 2014, we have returned over 9 billion gallons of beneficial fresh water to ecosystems surrounding our areas of operation through 10 major conservation projects.

Pictured above, cutting ribbon, left to right: David McCoy, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP); Roger Calhoun, U.S. Office of Surface Mining; Kate McManus, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Scott Mandirola; WV DEP; Bill Way, President & Chief Executive Officer, SWN; Jim Justice, Governor, West Virginia; Amanda Pitzer, Friends of the Cheat; Mike Sheehan, Division of Land Restoration, WV DEP; Paul Ziemkiewicz, Water Research Institute at West Virginia University; Larry Riggleman, WV DEP.

One of these projects included the restoration of the Muddy Creek watershed, a tributary of the Cheat River in Preston County, West Virginia. This 20-mile stretch of riverbed had been severely contaminated by acid mine drainage (AMD) from abandoned coal mines over decades. SWN formed a public-private partnership with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP) to help restore clean fresh water to the watershed.

In the 1990s, this part of the river was adversely impacted by two AMD blowouts from old mine complexes that had been improperly sealed. Though not the only sources of AMD to the watershed, these dramatic events devastated aquatic habitat and significantly degraded a previously healthy ecotourism and recreation economy for the local area.

Although SWN had no role in these mining activities, nor in the AMD contamination that resulted, we saw and seized the opportunity to be a good neighbor by contributing a minimal financial investment to the restoration of the watershed and Cheat River.

We worked with the WV DEP to design an AMD collection system to pipe the tainted water from four discharge points to a central treatment facility, constructed by the WV DEP. SWN funded the majority of the collection system and further committed five annual contributions for ongoing operation and maintenance from 2017 through 2021. The state of West Virginia owns and operates the collection system and AMD treatment facility.

The AMD collection system and treatment facility are successfully restoring water quality and aquatic life to this portion of the Cheat River. In addition, this project restores 11.4 million barrels of fresh water per year to the environment, counting toward SWN’s goal of operating as Fresh Water Neutral.

The Muddy Creek project is the latest of multiple AMD restoration projects SWN has undertaken in recent years, all of which provide diversion and treatment of AMD-polluted waters to restore fresh water to river systems and their aquatic habitat.