NRDC agrees with the oil and gas industry on something

Earlier this week there was a dangerous natural gas well accident in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, when a well blew out during a fracking operation. According to news reports, thousands of gallons of frack fluid blew out near homes and onto farms and continued to spill for two days. The fluids contaminated Towanda Creek--which flows into the Susquehanna River.

The response of 'Energy in Depth,' an organization that represents the oil and gas industry? "When accidents occur, however rare they may be, the right approach is to figure out what happened, correct it, and make sure it doesn't happen again."

We don't agree that accidents are rare, but here's a shocker: we agree with Energy in Depth on "the right approach."

Sadly, however, industry has not followed its own protocol. No one has made sure that accidents do not happen again. In fact, they happen on a regular basis. That is why the public is outraged.

A few examples of blow-out accidents and problems:

  • January, 2011: A natural gas well blew out during a hydraulic fracturing operation in a Pennsylvania state forest. It was reported that 21,000 gallons of frack fluid blew into the air
  • June, 2010: A natural gas well blew out during a fracking operation in a Pennsylvania state forest. Officials estimated that one million gallons of fracking fluid blew out of the well. Campers and others in the forest were evacuated and the Federal Aviation Administration had to issue flight restrictions.
  • September, 2010: A well blew out during a hydraulic fracturing job in North Dakota. It is estimated that over 60,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid, plus 7,000 gallons of oil, were blown out of the well into the environment.
  • October, 2010: The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association issued a report which found that natural gas companies in Pennsylvania had violated blowout prevention rules 4 times in a two-and-a-half year period.

These incidents, and many other spills, leaks, and explosions, reveal that accidents are not being prevented. There were already reports of widespread drinking water contamination related to natural gas operations in Bradford County, which should have given both regulators and companies pause for thought about the risks present and the need to adjust practices to better protect health and safety before any new intensive operations were undertaken. 

Pennsylvania has become a national sacrifice zone for natural gas development. It has seen more than its share of drinking water contamination, houses exploding, and destroyed landscapes and communities. We agree with Energy in Depth that accidents can be used as lessons for future improvements. As we've seen with innovations in hospital administration, when hospitals use what they learn from accidents and errors to improve their processes and their systems, they have seen improvements in the bottom line, quality of care, and patient as well as staff satisfaction.

Unfortunately, we have to give the oil and gas industry an "F" when it comes to learning its lessons.