Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Shale Gas Drillers Fail to Comply with Regulations Protecting Health and Environment

The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center released a report  entitled "Risky Business: An Analysis of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Violations in Pennsylvania 2008-2011" on February 8, 2012.

Using records obtained by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), the Center identified a total of 3,355 violations of environmental laws by 64 different Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011.  Of these violations, the Center identified 2,392 violations that likely posed a direct threat to our environment. These were not reporting or paperwork violations. 

Moreover, the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center believes these numbers offer a conservative view of environmental violations taking place across the Pennsylvania by Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies. These data only include violations discovered by PADEP’s enforcement staff. Yet based upon the number of wells drilled and limited PADEP enforcement staff, further violations that have gone undetected are likely.

The greatest numbers of environmental violations were related to improper erosion and sedimentation plans: 625 (26% of all violations likely to impact the environment). The second greatest number involved faulty pollution prevention techniques: 550 (23% of violations likely to impact the environment).

Between 2008 and 2011, on average, Pennsylvania saw more than two violations per day uncovered by PADEP, roughly 1.5 of which had the greatest potential to impact the environment.

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center identified 963 violations (29% of all violations) that seemed less likely to directly endanger the environment or the safety of communities. Their report focuses on the violations that have the greatest potential for directly impacting Pennsylvania’s environment.

The report concludes that "Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies are either unable or unwilling to comply with basic environmental laws that have been put in place to protect the health and environment of Pennsylvanians."

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center recommends in the report that "certain policy handles must be implemented in order to stop the rampant rate of environmental violations that drilling companies commit in Pennsylvania each year."

Visit the PENN Environment Web site to download the report and to see information about the author and sources of foundation support. 

Commentary ~ by David Kowalski 
It's interesting to compare the PENN Environment results with those in a new report by the University at Buffalo (UB) Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). The latter report is entitled "Environmental Impacts during Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts and Remedies" (released May 15, 2012 and revised June 6, 2012). Both reports analyzed PADEP data but they arrived at very different conclusions.

The two reports examined PADEP data on violations from 2008-2011. The time period analyzed in the UB SRSI report was shorter by four months in 2011 (see table below) for unstated reasons. However, the data for the full year 2011 were available and were included in the PENN Environment report and may account for the higher number of Total Violations. For unstated reasons, the UB SRSI study reported a minimal number of wells drilled (greater than 3533), so the total number of wells in the UB SRSI report is unclear. 

PENN Environment UB SRSI
Time Period 2008-2011 2008-Aug.2011
Wells Drilled 4596 >3533

  Total 3355 2988
  Administrative 963 1844
  Environmental 2392 1144

Within the PENN Environment analysis, the number of Environmental Violations were far greater than the Administrative Violations. However, within the UB SRSI study, the situation was reversed: far more Administrative Violations than Environmental Violations.

In both studies, the data were obtained from the PADEP. So what might account for the large differences reported? 

The time period of the UB SRSI study is somewhat shorter: 44 months vs. 48 months for the PENN Environment study. However, the small difference in time period can not account for the reversed distribution of Administrative and Environmental Violations between the two studies.

The UB SRSI study modified the PADEP definitions, moving many of the PADEP Environmental Violations to the Administrative type, claiming that these violations were non-polluting and "preventative in nature".

The UB SRSI study further reduced the 1144 Environmental Violations to 845 unique environmental events, because "an individual event may be associated with multiple environmental violations." Of those 845 events, the study defined only 25 events as major environmental violations and the remaining 820 as minor environmental violations.

In the UB SRSI study, the authors redefinition of PADEP Administrative Violations and Environmental Violations, and their subjective definition of major and minor environmental violations, contributed to the very different conclusions about industry practices and the frequency of environmental violations reached in their report as compared to the PENN Environment study. The UB SRSI study concluded that the odds of environmental events "are being reduced even further by enhanced regulation and improved industry practice."

In contrast, the PENN Environment study concluded that "Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies are either unable or unwilling to comply with basic environmental laws that have been put in place to protect the health and environment of Pennsylvanians." This conclusion paints a grim picture for the future of New York if the current moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing were to be lifted.

Unlike the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, the UB SRSI does not disclose its funding sources on their Website and the study's authors have close ties to the gas industry. 

The UB SRSI study has been called flawed and biased following a detailed analysis of the study by the Buffalo-based Public Accountability Initiative. Questions about the UB SRSI study and its data as well as the authors' industry ties have been covered in a recent report in The New York Times.

Click Here to view this and earlier posts about the UB Shale Institute (UB SRSI).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave, for the great find and the great analysis.

Jim Holstun