Why we need stronger federal regulation of oil and gas production activities

In a recent comment posted on my blog, an Ohio driller with 23 years of experience in the industry wrote that he has personally observed many state requirements being ignored by drillers as well as by state inspectors. He specifically mentions inadequate well construction, lax pressure management, and improper drilling through aquifers.

In another comment to my blog, Kari Matsko of the Northeast Ohio Accountability Project writes that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has found over 900 incidents of water contamination linked to oil or gas drilling, but has denied only two permits for environmental reasons. Regarding the December, 2007 groundwater contamination in Bainbridge Township, Ohio, the State did not issue an order to install new water lines to affected homes until April, 2009, and Kari reports that over 40 homes are still without clean water sources and the operator has not been fined. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources continued to issue drilling permits to this operator until the fall of this year, almost two years after the accident, when it finally got serious about requiring new water lines to be put in place in Bainbridge Township.

NRDC is calling for stronger federal regulation of oil and gas drilling and production. While states permit and regulate oil and gas operations, state regulations vary widely. It seems their levels of inspection, compliance and enforcement also vary. For example, a recent report published by the Ground Water Protection Council found that, among other things, 13 of 27 states surveyed can deny a permit only if a permit application contains insufficient information – not for other important reasons, such as an operator has a poor compliance record. Another finding: two of the 27 states do not require a well’s surface casing to be set through the deepest groundwater zone.

While some states may be doing a better job than others, citizens across the country have lost confidence in state regulators and feel that complaints are not addressed at all, or are not addressed adequately. In some cases, where families have enough cash, they are paying for their own water and air testing. Wherever drilling takes place, citizens should be able to feel confident that there is at least a minimal level of protection in place for the health and safety of their families and communities. This is not now the case.

I don't mean to pick on Ohio. It's just one example and, unfortunately, citizens from many other states have concerns about inadequate regulation and enforcement. Oil and gas activities are taking place in over 30 states; it's a national issue, and we need stronger federal regulations. Closing the loopholes in federal environmental statutes is a good way to start.

About the Authors

Amy Mall

Senior Policy Analyst, Land & Wildlife program

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