Gas drillers didn't report half the spills that led to fines

  • Marie Cusick

An investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found Marcellus Shale drillers didn’t report half of spills that led to fines.
The newspaper reviewed records from incidents at wells that led to a fine through the end of 2012:

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 flowback fluid that killed vegetation or fish.
Since the first fine of the Marcellus era in 2005, the DEP has made it clear that incidents that potentially impact the environment would be the ones most likely to result in a fine, so it is no surprise that spills make up a significant portion of the fines.
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 reportable spills to be called into state environmental regulators within two hours.
The gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, disputed the newspaper’s findings and questioned its analysis– arguing the incidents were a small percentage of the total number of active wells across the state.
“Judging environmental compliance exclusively based on fines is misleading, intellectually dishonest and suggests a purposeful manipulation of data to advance a flawed narrative,” MSC spokesman Patrick Creighton told the Post-Gazette.
The newspaper’s investigation comes two weeks after the release of a highly-critical report by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. He cited the state Department of Environmental Protection for failing to keep up with the booming gas industry.

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