Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pa drillers did not report half of spills leading to fines

Pennsylvania quarantined the cattle on Don Johnson's Tioga County farm
in 2010 after a leak of hydraulic fracturing flow-back fluid from a well site.

"Half the spills at Marcellus Shale well sites that resulted in fines weren't spotted by gas companies, which are required by state law to look for and report spills of drilling-related fluids."

That is one of the main conclusions of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review of hundreds of thousands of state and company documents for every incident at a Marcellus well site that led to a fine against a driller through the end of 2012.

According to the newspaper, the documentation showing that companies often failed to detect spills on their own sites offers a look at self-regulation in the shale gas industry.

"State regulation of the industry was the subject of a withering state auditor general review of the Department of Environmental Protection’s oversight issued July 22. The audit detailed the agency’s shortcomings, including failing to consistently issue enforcement orders to drilling companies after regulators determined that gas operations had damaged water supplies, even though the state’s oil and gas law requires it. "

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The Post-Gazette investigation using well permit file documents and other DEP data focused on 425 incidents involving 48 companies that resulted in nearly $4.4 million in fines.

Of those 425 fines, 137 were due to spills at or near a well site. They ranged from relatively small incidents involving a couple of gallons of diesel fuel on a well pad to larger accidents involving thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing flow-back fluid that killed vegetation or fish."

Post-Gazette reporter Sean D. Hamil writes:

"But what is surprising — to politicians, environmental groups, the industry itself and state officials — was the number of spills that were not first spotted by the drillers themselves. About a third were first identified by state inspectors while others, about one-sixth, were discovered by residents, according to the Post-Gazette’s analysis.

"State law requires that reportable spills and even muddy runoff events be called in to the state within two hours of discovery. At least 60 percent of the 137 spills occurred while drilling crews were on site; it was not always possible to discern from reports whether crews were working.

Read the full story here

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