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Study Finds Frackers Average at Least Two Violations a Day

PHOTO: A new study of online records for just three states found fracking companies committed an average of two-and-a-half violations of drilling rules a day. Photo courtesy of the Sierra Club.
PHOTO: A new study of online records for just three states found fracking companies committed an average of two-and-a-half violations of drilling rules a day. Photo courtesy of the Sierra Club.
April 7, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - On average, fracking companies commit more than two-and-a-half drilling violations a day, according to a new study drawn from just a small portion of available public record information.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) studied five years' worth of online reports for West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado. According to report co-author and NRDC policy analyst Amy Mall, she and her team totaled up at least 4,600 citations – about 18 per week.

She says some of the 68 drillers they looked at ran up hundreds of violations, including wastewater spills, well leaks and pipeline ruptures.

"When companies are seriously violating the law on a regular basis, they're what we would call a repeat offender," says Wall. "They need to be shut down or they need to be prohibited from getting new permits."

Mall says the study didn't examine the records from the 33 states that don't post citations online. She also says they did not include every company doing hydraulic fracturing, which suggests the violations they found are just a fraction of the total.

According to Mall, the fact that most of the public record is inaccessible means it's out of reach for most people. She says this covers a variety of violations, some of which are of immediate public interest.

"It could be contamination of a drinking water source," she says. "It could be a pit that overflowed. It could be not having the right paperwork on-site. It really varies quite widely."

Mall says West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection takes the philosophy of compliance assistance toward oil and gas violations, which she says is simply too lax.

"That's kind of like saying if a police officer stops you speeding and then says 'Okay, let me see how you drive for the next five minutes, I'll follow you, and if you drive within the speed limit you're not going to get a ticket,'" she says. "That doesn't encourage people to comply with the law."

The oil and gas industry has protested the findings. They feel the NRDC study includes an emphasis on "paperwork violations" over what it calls clerical issues. Mall says some of those violations and issues could be significant.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV