On Verge of Historic Marcellus Shale Vote, PennEnvironment Study Finds 3,355 Marcellus Violations between 2008 and 2011

Cabot, Chesapeake, Chief, among companies with most violations

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

As the Pennsylvania state House takes up contentious Marcellus Shale legislation today, the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center released a new study uncovering environmental violations by gas drillers in Pennsylvania over the last four years. The study shows that Marcellus Shale gas operators continue to violate Pennsylvania’s cornerstone environmental laws on a regular basis – laws meant to protect the Commonwealth’s natural heritage and the public’s health.

“Our analysis shows that Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies are either unable or unwilling to comply with basic environmental laws,” said Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center. “PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center is calling on our state leaders to halt additional shale gas extraction until gas operators can demonstrate that shale gas extraction is safe for the environment and public health—a threshold that, to date, they have not met.”

The study found that out of a total of 4,596 Marcellus Shale wells drilled between 2008 and 2011, gas operators accumulated 3,355 violations of environmental laws, with 2,392 violations (over 70 percent) that likely posed a direct threat to the environment.

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center pointed to recent incidents at Marcellus Shale sites that put human health and safety at risk, such as a 2011 Chesapeake Appalachia liquid storage tank explosion in Avella, Washington County and a Chesapeake Energy well blowout in Bradford County, also from 2011.

The report’s other findings included:

  • The greatest numbers of environmental violations were related to improper erosion and sedimentation plans: (625), and the second-greatest number involved faulty pollution prevention techniques (548).
  • The top five operators for total number of violations were, in order, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. (412); Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC (393); Chief Oil and Gas, LLC (313); Talisman Energy USA, Inc. (303); and East Resources, Inc. (170).
  • The top five operators for average number of violations per well drilled were, in order, Guardian Exploration, LLC (11 violations per well drilled); AB Resources PA, LLC (9); JW Operating Co. (5.3); Flatirons Development, LLC (4.7) and Novus Operating, LLC (4.6).

“We believe these numbers offer a conservative view of environmental violations by Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies in Pennsylvania,” said Staaf. “Given limited PADEP enforcement staff relative to the more than 4,000 Marcellus wells drilled, we believe there are many more violations that flew under the radar and went undetected.”

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center is recommending the following policy handles to stop the rampant rate of environmental violations that drilling companies commit in Pennsylvania each year:

  • Implement mandatory minimum penalties for polluters that violate environmental laws. There must be stronger incentives to protect our environment and the public’s health, and we need the state to make sure that there is an economic incentive for complying with the law.
  • Update and increase the bonding requirements for gas drilling companies in order to cover the full cost of completing a gas well. Pennsylvania’s taxpayers should not be left footing the bill for an expensive BP-like disaster related to gas drilling in the Commonwealth, or the legacy of coal mining pollution—a bill that is mostly footed by taxpayers .
  • Put areas that supply our drinking water, critical wildlife habitat and ecosystems, and our state forests and other public lands completely off limits to drilling.
  • Increase funding to PADEP and other state agencies to ensure they can properly enforce environmental and public health laws.

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center voiced its disapproval with the state Senate for approving precedent-setting rollbacks yesterday that the group says will strip control from local governments and set one of the lowest impact fee rates in the nation.

“If legislators were looking to pass a proposal that will allow more gas drilling near people’s homes, and the parks, playgrounds and schools where our children play and spend their days, then ‘Mission Accomplished,’” Staaf added.