PennEnvironment Says Ban PA Drilling Based on Violations Data

PennEnvironment released a study yesterday of what they call “environmental violations” by Marcellus Shale drillers in Pennsylvania for the past four years (a copy of the study is embedded below). It is a skewed analysis of citations issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from 2008 to 2011. By PennEnvironment’s own admission, about one-third of the 3,355 DEP violations over the past four years are paperwork-related.

In the report, PennEnvironment says there were “2,392 violations that likely posed a direct threat to our environment.” Gotta love that word “likely.” My Roget’s Thesaurus offers these synonyms: probable, expected, anticipated, hopeful.

The biggest threat, according to their analysis, has been “Improper Erosion and Sedimentation Plan” at 26 percent. That would include rain water run-off washing dirt and sediment from well-pad construction into local rivers and streams, or the lack of a plan to handle it. The second biggest violation was “Faulty Pollution Prevention” at 23 percent. Since the report does not define what these categories actually mean, MDN will go with too many diesel generators operating at well pads and roughnecks chain-smoking cigarettes while they work.

PennEnvironment’s prescription based on the horrifying data they’ve concocted? Ban drilling, of course!

“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.”(1)

Commenting on PennEnvironment’s call to ban drilling, Marcellus Shale Coalition’s vice president of policy and communications Steve Forde said:

"Natural gas development, which supports nearly 229,000 jobs in the Commonwealth, is aggressively and tightly regulated," Mr. Forde said in a statement released by the coalition. "Suggesting otherwise may grab a headline or two, but such claims are simply not supported by the facts."*

What PennEnvironment doesn’t point out in their analysis of violations data is that the total number of violations has gone down year over year, and the violations per well number dropped dramatically, by 30 percent, last year:

State inspectors found 1,178 violations of state environmental regulations at Marcellus Shale gas drilling and development sites in 2011…

That number of violations is down slightly from 2010, but the violations per well drilled has declined significantly, from .836 violations per well drilled in 2010 to .591 violations per well drilled in 2011.(2)

(1) PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center (Feb 8, 2012) – On Verge of Historic Marcellus Shale Vote, PennEnvironment Study Finds 3,355 Marcellus Violations between 2008 and 2011

(2) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb 9, 2012) – Reported violations at Pa. drilling sites saw drop in 2011