Risky Business: An Analysis of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Violations in Pennsylvania 2008-2011
Marcellus Shale gas drilling is expanding rapidly across Pennsylvania. And with it, drilling companies continue to violate Pennsylvania’s cornerstone environmental laws – laws that aim to protect the Commonwealth’s natural heritage and the public’s health.
In the worst scenarios, such as a 2011 Chesapeake Appalachia liquid storage tank explosion in Avella, Washington County or a 2011 Chesapeake Energy well blowout in Bradford County, these violations threaten the surrounding environment and can put human health and safety at risk. Others put surrounding ecosystems at risk, such as a 2010 Anadarko E&P Company LP drilling mud spill at a drilling site in Sproul State Forest.
Using records obtained by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), the PennEnvironment Research and Policy 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 PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center identified 2,392 violations that likely posed a direct threat to our environment and 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 Commonwealth by Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies. This data only includes 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.
Our analysis of data collected and reported by PADEP between 2008 and 2011 found the following:
- 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).
- The top five operators for total number of violations were, in order, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. with 412; Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC with 393; Chief Oil and Gas, LLC with 313; Talisman Energy USA, Inc. with 303; and East Resources, Inc. with 170.
- The top five operators for average number of violations per well drilled were, in order, Guardian Exploration, LLC with an average of 11 violations per well drilled; AB Resources PA, LLC with 9; JW Operating Co. with 5.3; Flatirons Development, LLC with 4.67 and Novus Operating, LLC with 4.63.
- 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. This report focuses on the violations that have the greatest potential for directly impacting the Commonwealth’s environment.
This analysis demonstrates 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 points to a need for state leaders to halt additional shale gas extraction through all legally viable means until and unless gas operators can prove the practice is safe for the environment and public health. Until that happens, PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center believes the following policy handles must be implemented in order to stop the rampant rate of environmental violations that drilling companies commit in Pennsylvania each year.
- Increase mandatory minimum penalties for polluters that violate our environmental laws. There must be stronger incentives to protect our environment and the public’s health.
- Update and increase the bonding requirements for gas drilling companies in order to cover the full cost of completing a gas well. This must include preparing for worst case scenarios and accidents as well as the potential long-term environmental effects from Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Pennsylvania’s taxpayers should not be left footing the bill for an expensive BP-like disaster related to gas drilling in the Commonwealth, or an expensive legacy of pollution similar to that left by coal mining.
- Put areas that supply our drinking water, critical wildlife habitat and ecosystems, and our state forests and other public lands completely off limits to drilling.
- All private well owners within a half-mile of a drilling site should be notified prior to the submittal of a drilling permit application. Every private well owner should be given the opportunity to have their well water tested—at the expense of the industry, not the land owner or taxpayers, prior to application. Increase funding to PADEP and other state agencies to ensure they can properly enforce our environmental and public health laws. This enforcement should include:
- Implementing more regular inspection of all drilling sites, especially at critical times (when wells are being sealed, for example); and
- An inspection of erosion and sedimentation controls and plans prior to the start of any drilling.