[Philadelphia, PA] - From Fortune 500 companies like Cabot Oil, to smaller, less-known operators like Snyder Bros Inc, to firms like Chevron who attempt to continually tout their so-called strong environmental records, frackers of all types regularly violate Pennsylvania’s environmental laws and regulations, a new report says. The analysis of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry over a four-year period found that the worst fracking companies in Pennsylvania averaged violating air, water, and health protections more than daily.
The analysis from the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S., comes as Governor Tom Wolf builds his foundations as the new executive of the Commonwealth and considers his action on fracking.
“When it comes to fracking, there are just no good apples,” said Lina Blount, Fracking Program Associate with PennEnvironment. “Gas drillers small and large, and even those who tout their environmental record, violate our environmental protections at astounding rates.”
Most of the violations in the report are not paperwork violations. Rather, the study tracks lapses such as allowing toxic chemicals to leach into the air and water, endangering drinking water through improper well construction, and dumping industrial waste into waterways.
PennEnvironment’s findings include:
- Houston-based Cabot Oil ranked worst for the most total violations in Pennsylvania during the four-year period in question, with 265.
- Pittsburgh-based Atlas was guilty of the most breaches for every well drilled, averaging 1.18 violations per well drilled.
- Four firms -- EQT, Chevron Appalachia, Consol and Shell -- who told the public they would adhere to higher standards when they formed the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, were also among the worst offenders. Together they racked up at least 100 infractions, even after they pledged to do better in 2013.
“Our health assessment of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) in southwestern Pennsylvania, together with the latest health research from across the country, raises the prospect that we may be at the beginning of a run-away public health crisis. Right now there are communities where UNGD is potentially exposing tens of thousands of people, especially the young, to serious, acute and long-term health risks,” said Raina Rippel, Executive Director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. “That's under normal operating conditions-- if spills or accidents occur, the risk could be even greater."
From the very beginning of clearing a site for drilling, through extraction, transport and delivery of finished products, fracking threatens the environment. The report examined violations of the regulations intended to mitigate some threats during both the drilling and the operation of a well.
"The problem with emissions, leaks, and spills that pollute the air, water, and soil is that the toxic chemicals persist and spread, affecting more than just the immediate area and more than just the people in close proximity," said Dr. Ketyer, a pediatrician in Washington County for the last 25 years and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health. "There is a growing and substantial body of peer-reviewed, scientific research that demonstrates the clear and present danger of unconventional natural gas extraction on human health—especially children’s health."
“I’ve seen time and time again companies asking residents to ‘trust them’ to do the right thing,” said Jordan Yeager, Esquire, a lawyer in Doylestown known for representing the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and local governments in a lawsuit that overturned facets of Pennsylvanian’s controversial fracking law known as Act 13. “Even with the weak regulations we have in place, you see companies repeatedly crossing the line. This study is just the tip of the iceberg, as violations often go undetected and unreported.”
PennEnvironment and its allies urged Governor Wolf to act boldly in light of the report’s findings.
Specifically, PennEnvironment called on the new administration to:
- Increase funding for the Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP) and other regulatory agencies charged with regulating the fracking industry and enforcing the state’s environmental laws;
- Increase the number of inspections and increase transparency of violations so that regulators and the public have all the facts about violations by fracking companies in the Commonwealth;
- Increase penalties for violations. State officials must send a clear message to frackers who put our health and environment at risk: it doesn’t “pay to pollute” in Pennsylvania.
- Withhold permits for companies that have ongoing and chronic records of putting the health of the public and our environment at risk. Companies cannot be allowed to be poor corporate neighbors to Pennsylvania’s communities for their own financial gain.
“Fracking is a failure for our environment and health,” said Blount. “We hope the evidence presented in this report encourages the new Wolf administration to hold the worst violators accountable now and in the future.”
PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center is a state-based, citizen-funded, environmental advocacy organization working towards a cleaner, greener, healthier future.