Update: New report on fracking violations | Blogh

Update: New report on fracking violations

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A new analysis of violations of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas laws over a four-year period concludes that such violations are commonplace among fracking companies of all sizes, from multi-national corporations to locally based firms.

Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S. was released by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, an environmental group. (The complete report is here.)

The report looked at violations by companies that use hydraulic fracturing, a process for extracting natural gas and oil that involves pumping large volumes of chemical-laced water underground at high volumes to crack rock, releasing the fossil fuel contained there. The state is home to more than 7,000 such active wells, overseen by 60-some operators.

PennEnvironment emphasized that the violations it noted “are not paperwork violations. Rather, the study tracks lapses such as allowing toxic chemicals to leach into the air and water, endangering drinking water through improper well construction, and dumping industrial waste into waterways.”

The company with the most violations was found to be Houston-based Cabot Oil, with 265 violations over the four years. Atlas Energy, based in Pittsburgh, had the most violations per well drilled, averaging 1.18.

PennEnvironment also noted that four of the largest drillers, all of whom had pledged to adhere to higher environmental standards as part of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, had “at least 100 infractions” between them. They include EQT, Chevron Appalachia, Consol and Shell.

The report cites the potential long-term health risks of emissions of toxic chemicals.

In the wake of yesterday's news that drilling-friendly former Gov. Corbett’s top energy adviser has – surprise! – taken a job with trade group the Marcellus Shale Coalition, PennEnvironment used the report’s release to urge newly sworn-in Gov. Tom Wolf to: increases funding for enforcement of laws regulating frackers; increase the number of inspections and ease of public access to information about violations; increase penalties to violations; and withhold permits from “companies that have ongoing and chronic records of putting the health of the public and our environment at risk.”

JAN. 28, 2015, UPDATE: The Marcellus Shale Coalition has issued a response to yesterday’s PennEnvironment report.

The statement reads, in part: “Pennsylvania has a world-class regulatory framework and enforcement programs that are enabling the safe development of clean-burning natural gas. It’s unfortunate that some fringe groups, who cannot accept these clear facts, have once again manipulated data in attempt to advance an out of the mainstream agenda.”

The Coalition’s key factual objection appears to be that the report reclassifies some violations that DEP considers “administrative” as “environmental and health,” and vice versa.

The Coalition charges that “[a]mong the activist group’s so-called, re-categorized ‘health’ violations are things like ‘E&S Plan not adequate’ (which doesn’t indicate any sort of actual environmental/health harm), ‘Plan not on site’ (paperwork), and many others cite paperwork-related ‘potentials’ for impact, which, of course does not mean — by any measure — that such purely administrative actions led to any impacts.”

CP asked PennEnvironment to respond to that criticism. One of the report’s authors, Jeff Inglis, of the Frontier Group, replied that the authors recategorized some violations because “there is no clear consistency with how the PA DEP makes these designations. There are some that are pretty clearly risking damage to the environment but are nevertheless called ‘Administrative,’ and others that are pretty clearly paperwork-related but are called ‘Environmental Health & Safety’ violations by the PA DEP. And there are at least two types of violations that are sometimes designated as ‘Administrative’ and sometimes as ‘EH&S.’”

For example, wrote Inglis in an email, DEP classifies as “administrative” violations such acts as drilling within 100 feet of surface water or wetland without a variance, and having “pit and tanks not constructed with sufficient capacity to contain pollutional substances.” And the department classifies as “environmental health & safety violations” things like the failure to have a permit on site during drilling, and if a “pollution incident was not reported to DEP.”

“Relying on the PA DEP designation risked excusing those companies who committed actual damage and improperly penalizing those companies who committed paperwork violations,” Inglis writes.

Asked to address the specific examples cited by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Inglis acknowledges that some were classified by DEP as administrative violations. But he writes that the report’s stated criteria is not that a violation caused actual harm, but “that it posed a serious risk of doing so. And we report that these risks are not theoretical, because at least some of those violations — as we document in the report — did cause actual harm, including killing and injuring people, contaminating drinking water supplies, and polluting the environment.”

For instance, in the case of “E&S [erosion & sedimentation] Plan not adequate,” Inglis explains: “This is classified by the PA DEP as ‘Administrative.’ Failure to have an adequate plan for handling erosion and sedimentation creates clear risk to the health of the surrounding environment.” On “[erosion & sedimentation] plan not on site,” Inglis notes that the violation referenced also includes the phrase “No E&S plan developed,” and he adds, “failure to have a plan for handling erosion and sedimentation creates clear risk to the health of the surrounding environment.”

Inglis also commented on several instances of what the MSC calls “paperwork-related ‘potentials’” that the report cited as “environmental and health.” For example, one of these, which DEP in fact classifies as an environmental safety and health violation, is “potential for polluting substance(s) reaching Waters of the Commonwealth.” Inglis argues that this is “synonymous with our standard of things that ‘pose serious risks to … the environment.’”

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