The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued a $1,088,000 fine to Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas exploration company with holdings in Arkansas, the largest ever issued to a gas driller by the state. In a statement released yesterday, the PDEP said the fine was issued because of a tank fire at one of Chesapeake’s well sites in February. There have also been numerous cases of water contamination in towns near drilling operations.

At various times throughout 2010, DEP investigated private water well complaints from residents of Bradford County’s Tuscarora, Terry, Monroe, Towanda and Wilmot townships near Chesapeake’s shale drilling operations. DEP determined that because of improper well casing and cementing in shallow zones, natural gas from non-shale shallow gas formations had experienced localized migration into groundwater and contaminated 16 families’ drinking water supplies.

Small comfort to those who have had their water ruined and their health threatened, but some comfort nonetheless.