I read today that seven oil and gas companies companies were recently charged with killing migratory birds in North Dakota by not protecting these birds from dangerous pits. It turns out that all seven of these companies have previously been fined for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. So have other companies. Does anyone else get the sense that these companies don't go out of their way to protect wildlife?
It has been well documented for years that oil and gas waste can be very toxic. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the pits used by the oil and gas industry to store such waste can "entrap and kill migratory birds and other wildlife . . . ." Solutions to this problem are not high tech. Pits can be covered or, better yet, can be eliminated. It's been proven that using enclosed tanks to store waste instead of pits can actually save companies money--and save birds--but companies still use these archaic pits.
North Dakota regulators have also fined 20 companies for failing to prevent overflowing of pits during the spring rainy season. According to a news report, state officials have said that companies do not cover the pits because fines can be cheaper than installing and maintaining netting. That's right -- companies may knowingly break the law because they don't mind paying the penalties.
Government penalties need to be meaningful, because companies disobey the law too often. Fines need to be consistent with the industry's ability to pay. Not just in North Dakota, but in states around the nation. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association found that oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania violated the law 1435 times in two-and-a-half years, and most of the violations were......improper construction of waste pits.
NRDC has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to write new rules for toxic oil and gas waste. Right now, toxic waste generated by the oil and gas industry is not subject to federal hazardous waste regulations. Thanks to a special loophole, it is instead treated like non-toxic waste, even though the pits are notorious for having problems, and have contaminated drinking water around the country. North Dakota regulators are considering banning pits. This is the right step because there are readily available alternatives to pits, and these alternatives make economic sense. New Mexico passed strong pit rules and the following year drilling activity more than doubled.