Fracking is dirty and dangerous. From the very beginning of clearing a site for drilling, through the extraction, transport and delivery of natural gas, fracking poses significant risks to our air and water and to human health.
Even when drillers follow all the rules, fracking is a dirty and dangerous activity. Yet drilling companies also regularly violate laws and regulations meant to protect the environment and the public, magnifying the risk to our health and environment. Since the last Fracking Failures report in 2015, gas drillers across Pennsylvania have continued to violate laws with little consequence.
In Pennsylvania, fracking companies violate rules and regulations meant to protect the environment and human health on virtually a daily basis. Between January 1, 2008, and September 30, 2016, fracking companies together committed a combined total of 4,351 violations, or an average of 1.4 violations per day.
Despite the number of violations resulting from fracking operations across Pennsylvania—and the ensuing pollution, workplace accidents and threats to public health—enforcement has lagged far behind the level necessary to deter companies from breaking the rules. Between 2008 and 2016, just 17 percent of violations of rules meant to protect the environment and public health at unconventional wells were accompanied with a fine. When they were, the median fine was only $5,263.
These are violations of rules designed to protect the environment and public health, as opposed to administrative violations. These violations include:
Table ES-1. Fracking Companies Most Frequently Cited for Violations of Rules Designed to Protect the Environment and Public Health, January 2008-September 2016
|Company||Environmental or Health Violations||Rank|
|CHESAPEAKE APPALACHIA LLC||463||1|
|CABOT OIL & GAS CORP||451||2|
|CHIEF OIL & GAS LLC||386||3|
|RANGE RESOURCES APPALACHIA LLC||346||4|
|TALISMAN ENERGY USA INC||209||5|
|XTO ENERGY INC||176||6|
|ANADARKO E&P ONSHORE LLC||163||7|
|EQT PRODUCTION CO||162||8|
|SENECA RESOURCES CORP||156||9|
|PA GEN ENERGY CO LLC||134||11|
|SOUTHWESTERN ENERGY PROD CO||123||12|
|EAST RESOURCES INC||104||13|
|EXCO RESOURCES PA LLC||91||14|
|WPX ENERGY APPALACHIA LLC||90||15|
|ULTRA RESOURCES INC||84||16|
|CHEVRON APPALACHIA LLC||78||17|
|CARRIZO (MARCELLUS) LLC||77||18|
|EOG RESOURCES INC||73||19|
|ATLAS RESOURCES LLC||71||20|
|Total (Top 20 Violators)||3,577|
|Total (All Violators)||4,351|
In this report, references to the effects of “fracking” include all of the activities needed to bring a shale gas or oil well into production using high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracturing operations that use at least 100,000 gallons of water), to operate that well, and to deliver the gas or oil produced from that well to market. The oil and gas industry often uses a more restrictive definition of “fracking” that includes only the actual moment in the extraction process when rock is fractured—a definition that obscures the broad changes to environmental, health and community conditions that result from the use of fracking in oil and gas extraction.
The state of Pennsylvania designates wells as either conventional or unconventional. This report looks only at wells designated as unconventional, meaning natural gas is extracted through high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing sometimes occurs at conventional wells, but it is typically less resource-intensive and, therefore, is excluded from consideration in this report.
The list of top violators in Pennsylvania includes large, multi-national oil and gas industry operators and smaller, locally owned firms—including companies that have promised to exceed state safety standards. (See Table ES-1.)
Both firms with many wells and firms with few wells rank poorly for number of violations when adjusted for the extent of their fracking activities in Pennsylvania.
The number of violations that received citations from state officials is likely lower than the actual number of infractions that occurred, because of Pennsylvania’s historical pattern of conducting fewer inspections than state rules require, and because inspectors have regularly declined to issue violation notices when companies voluntarily agree to fix problems.
The sheer number and severity of risks posed by fracking operations make constructing an adequate regulatory regime for fracking and enforcing it at thousands of wells and other sites implausible. To protect the public, the Commonwealth should:
o Increased Mandatory Minimum Fines: Increase the minimum fines for violations and create a tiered structure for repeat violators to provide a more effective deterrent.
o Permit Revocation for Repeat Offenders: Companies that flagrantly disregard rules designed to protect the environment and public health should be required to halt drilling operations.
o Additional Environmental Inspectors: Boost funding to allow more “cops on the beat” for fracking site inspections, with a goal of at least three inspections per site each year, including random inspections.
o Monitoring Air Emissions and Water Pollution: Institute a meaningful monitoring program for both air emissions and water pollution to ensure standards are being met. One mechanism for monitoring would be to use tracers, which can help pinpoint leaks and assess pollution.
o Increased Transparency: The state should collect and release more complete data on violations at fracking sites to the public. Better public engagement and transparency about violations should include online information allowing residents to easily find out about violations in their area, the associated fines, and the remediation efforts undertaken by the responsible company.
o Ensuring Polluters, Not Taxpayers, Pay for Damage: All drillers should be required to provide sufficient financial assurance to account for worst case scenarios and accidents. Insurance and bonding rules for fracking companies should be designed to guarantee that the costs of any environmental or public health damage caused by fracking are borne by the drillers, not residents or the public.