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The oil and gas industry repeatedly violates the law; states not using carrots or sticks

Amy Mall

Posted July 17, 2013

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A scathing new investigation from EnergyWire confirms the worst fears of citizens across the country who live near fracking sites: state regulators are not doing everything they can to prevent oil and gas companies from repeatedly violating the law. EnergyWire spend months analyzing state records. Some of the most appalling findings:

Texas:  In the last fiscal year there were 55,000 violations. If that weren't shocking enough, the state only sought enforcement for 2 percent of them.

Pennsylvania: In 2012, state regulators levied fines for only 13 percent of violations.

Wyoming: In 2012 there were 204 recorded oil and gas spills but only 10 producers were fined. EnergyWire highlights a 2012 blow-out, where chemicals were spewed into the air near homes for three days with reported impacts to human health and the environment, but the operator was not fined one penny. One organic farmer reported that the air was so polluted that she couldn't see the barn from 200 feet away, there was a petroleum sheen in the water in their stock tank, and one of her daughters had nosebleeds for 29 straight days.

New Mexico: EnergyWire reports that regulators haven't issued one fine since 2009, when a judge ruled that the state doesn't have the authority to do so.

As EnergyWire summarized: many mishaps, few fines.

Local communities across the country are rightfully working to protect their citizens with rules, moratoria, and bans that go beyond state standards. Industry fights these efforts with money and litigation, but it's no surprise that local goverments want to take action when oil and gas companies are repeat offenders. Pro-industry regulatory systems need to be reformed, with stiff penalties to encourage meaningful changes in business practices. We also need stronger federal laws and enforcement, not only change at the state level.

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Michael BerndtsonJul 17 2013 05:07 PM

This is a pretty timely post from Bloomberg today:

"Interior Chief Defends Federal Fracking Regulations"

This whole thing about states "know their own geology" is just silly. Every department and sub department within every state of the union has political appointments for heads. Of course there might be a several geologists and environmental scientists on staff sitting somewhere in a cube are out walking around in the field that knows where the shale layer sits. The question is how does the exploitation of shale gas impact the environment? My guess is that every political appointee in a oil and gas state doesn't know the answer and doesn't care.

A portion of the article presented below:

“The states vary in their understanding of hydraulic fracturing,” Jewell said. Some states, such as Wyoming, have strong rules, while “in many cases, the state rules don’t exist or are out of date.”

Further, no matter where a well is drilled, “having well-bore integrity is essential,” she said, using the technical term for cementing and casing wells to prevent leaks.
Jewell also drew on her engineering experience at Mobil Oil Co., now part of Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), to answer Representative Alan Lowenthal, a California Democrat, who complained that the Interior proposal relies on the industry’s FracFocus website for disclosure of fracking chemicals.

FracFocus “is imperfect, but it’s being updated,” she said. If it’s not providing adequate disclosure, “we will look for other ways to do it.”

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