In Washington County, the Conservation District is constantly looking for ways to protect and improve the region’s natural resources.  Watershed clean-ups play an important role in those efforts, but rounding up the necessary volunteers and equipment can be a challenge.

In recent years, Range Resources has partnered with the Washington County Conversation District and the Penn State chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers (SPE) to target sites in critical need of a clean-up.  Last week, the three groups connected in Donegal Township, taking on an illegal dumping site in the Buffalo Creek Watershed.

Jennifer Dann, Watershed Specialist at the Washington County Conservation District and the Treasurer of the Washington County Watershed Alliance, helped identify the site of the recent clean-up. “I asked around some of the local watershed groups, and this site came up in conversations with both the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association and with Donegal Township.”

The Buffalo Creek Watershed is considered a “high quality” watershed in the state of Pennsylvania.  “That means it has the potential to attain a better status than some of the other streams in our region, based on historical data,” explained Dann.  That can’t happen though, if the area is used as a default dumping ground. 

“I think we collected well over 80 tires at the clean-up, I don’t even know how many old TVs, and several old couches,” said Dann. “These are things that are hard for people to dispose of, and there’s often a cost involved.  But throwing them over a hillside is not the answer. Because now, you have an illegal dump site, and you have chemicals from these items—fabric protector on these old couches, old batteries, TV components—all leaching into the groundwater, and making their way into Buffalo Creek.”

Dann appreciates that employees from Range and the students from Penn State are willing to volunteer their time and efforts.

“It’s hard work. And we don’t have a big staff at the Conservation District. Local watershed groups aren’t able to tackle a clean-up effort like this either. It requires volunteers who are physically strong and can lug heavy things up steep hillsides, and who also have access to trucks and dumpsters for collection and disposal.  We don’t have anything like that.  There’s just no way could pull this off without the teams from Penn State and Range getting involved.”

Junior Matt Watson is the President of SPE Penn State. He’ll graduate next year with a B.S. in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering. 

“Community service is an important focus for our SPE chapter, and we were really excited to partner with Range and take part in this clean-up,” said Watson.  “I’m glad we’re here to help, it feels good to accomplish something as important as this.”

Watson and his student peers care about how companies conduct their operations.

“It’s great to see how much this matters to Range and to their employees. They are the type of company I’d like to work for some day, committed to the community with a strong sense of corporate responsibility.”

Range’s employees, including Environmental Compliance Specialist Nate Smiell, have worked together on stream clean-ups in the past, at sites like Pigeon Creek and Ten Mile Creek Watershed.

“I just wanted to do my part,” said Smiell. “Western Pennsylvania is painted with beautiful sections of rural backroads that unfortunately, some people view as easy dumping grounds. But by the end of the day, the small section of Donegal Township roadway that we worked on no longer fell in that category. I’m glad we could be part of the transformation.” 

For Range Drilling Engineering Manager Josh Doak, it was also a chance to connect with the students. “Working with the SPE college chapters is particularly important to me. I was a member in college and had opportunities to be involved in similar efforts. SPE was also my first introduction to the oil and gas industry and the connections I made there have been beneficial throughout my career.”

As the clean-up wrapped for the day, Dann offered alternatives to dumping. “There are free or very low-cost opportunities to get rid of hard-to-dispose-of items. Old electronics can dropped off at the Washington County Fairgrounds once a month, and there are tire disposal efforts a couple of times a year as well.” 

The Washington County Conversation District can also connect interested volunteers with local Watershed groups.  For more information visit the Washington County Conservation District website.