WASHINGTON (April 2, 2015) – Only three out the 36 states with active oil and gas operations make information about companies’ spills and legal violations easily available to the public, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and FracTracker Alliance.
“People deserve to know what’s happening in their own backyards, but too often homeowners aren’t even informed if there’s a threat to their health,” said Amy Mall, report co-author and senior policy analyst at NRDC. “Our representatives have a responsibility to protect the people who elect them, not help keep a dangerous industry shrouded in secrecy. States are falling down on their responsibility to be a watchdog for the people who live there.”
Fracking’s Most Wanted: Lifting the Veil on Oil and Gas Company Spills and Violations is an investigation into whether information about oil and gas company violations is publicly available nationwide, as well as the accessibility and reliability of the information that does exist. The groups discovered that only Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia post accessible public data about companies’ violations. Even that information is often incomplete, misleading, and/or difficult to interpret.
The data that is available in each of these three states reveals significant violations—in number and severity. Incidents include a wide range of dangerous infractions like spills, drinking water contamination, illegal air pollution, improper construction or maintenance of waste pits, failure to conduct safety tests, improper well casing, and nonworking blowout preventers.
The report shows that too often state regulators don’t inform landowners or their neighbors when violations occur, and allow companies to continue operating even after repeat violations.
“The limited information that is actually available is eye-opening, both in terms of frequency and the sometimes shocking nature of the impacts when things go wrong,” said Matt Kelso, FracTracker’s Manager of Data and Technology. “This industry is already immense and rapidly growing. It develops in residential communities, sensitive ecological areas, and everywhere in between. Our research shows the need for increased transparency about the compliance record of the industry, especially given those vulnerable areas and populations.”
Top 10 Most Wanted
While there are thousands of oil and gas companies operating around the country, this report analyzed the available public data regarding 68 of the largest companies based on the amount of acreage they have leased nationwide. At the end of 2011, these companies held mineral rights leases covering at least 141 million acres—an area the size of California and Florida combined.
Of these companies, the following 10 had the most violations overall, in order of most to least:
- Chesapeake Energy (669)
- Cabot Oil and Gas (565)
- Talisman Energy (362))
- Range Resources (281)
- EXCO Resources (249)
- ExxonMobil (246)
- EQT Corporation (245)
- Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (235)
- Shell (223)
- Penn Virginia Corporation (186)
Top Violators by State
The following companies stood out as having the most violations in each of the three states with publicly available data:
- Colorado: Chevron (53)
- Pennsylvania: Chesapeake Energy (589)
- West Virginia: EQT Corporation (92)
Federally-managed oil and gas resources account for more than 750 million acres nationwide, an area seven times the size of California. These resources are beneath lands that are home to America’s last wild places—including national forests and wildlife refuges—as well as drinking water sources for millions of people, from large municipal supplies like Denver’s, to private wells.
The Department of Interior reports that there were more than 2,000 safety and drilling violations issued to 335 companies on federal lands from 1998 to 2011. There is no publicly information available after that time.
The company responsible for the majority of those violations was WPX Energy, and its former parent company Williams, with 98 violations. This figure includes a 2.8 million gallon spill in 2013 in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. It also includes a 2010 incident where 6,000 gallons of wastewater were dumped by WPX into a tributary to the Colorado River, an important source of drinking water for millions. Officials concluded that the contamination level was too low to violate drinking water standards.
The Interior Department released new regulations for federal lands last month. Unfortunately, the regulations are still woefully inadequate to protect public health and the environment against future incidents.
Improving Transparency & Protections
To better protect public health and the environment, states need to create and enforce policies that require their regulators to disclose essential information about violations to the public, hold violators accountable when something goes wrong, and keep repeat offenders out of communities.
However, even if these improvements are made, many dangerous practices are still legal and would not qualify as a violation, due to weak laws and special exemptions for the industry from protective laws. In order to protect people across the country, Congress must close gaping loopholes in our bedrock federal environmental laws—including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and toxic waste laws.
- Full report: http://www.nrdc.org/land/drilling/files/fracking-company-violations-IP.pdf
- Recent FracTracker publication and blog article on the variability of several different types of available oil and gas data across 10 states.