Report: Small or large, all fracking companies break rules

The report is revealing top violators among fracking companies. These findings are so important right now because they emphasize how there are no effective regulations on fracking and how important it is for New York's Congressional representatives to do all they can to support the fracking ban.

New York, NY]- From Fortune 500 companies like Cabot Oil, to mom-and-pop operators, to firms like Chevron who tout their clean records, virtually all frackers are prone to infractions of environmental rules, a new report says. The analysis of Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry over a four-year period found that the top offenders of air, water, and health protections averaged more than a violation each day.

The analysis from Environment New York Research & Policy Center, Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S., comes just one month after New York's landmark fracking ban was announced.

"Fracking is an inherently risky, dirty, dangerous practice, and regulations can't change that," said Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York. "But this report shows that a range of oil and gas companies struggle to meet even modest protections for our environment and public health."

"As troubling as the data in this report is, it underestimates the actual magnitude of problems with shale gas development in PA," said Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.D, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. "Many offenses do not receive violations (the problem of letting operators down too easily); and many wells are not inspected often enough to discover problems (the problem of chronic understaffing of inspectors). Truly tough regulations for shale gas development do not exist anywhere."

The rules so often broken by the oil and gas industry are not matters of paperwork. Rather, the study tracks lapses such as allowing toxic chemicals to leach into the air and water, endangering drinking water through improper well construction, and dumping industrial waste into waterways.

"We're not talking about misfiled papers," said Leibowitz. "We're talking about serious risks for workers, drinking water, and public health."

From the very beginning of clearing a site for drilling, through extraction, transport and delivery of finished products, fracking threatens the environment. The report examines violations of the regulations intended to mitigate some threats during both the drilling and the operation of a well.

Houston-based Cabot Oil committed the most total violations with 265. Pittsburgh-based Atlas was guilty of the most breaches for every well drilled, while Dallas-based Mieka was responsible for the most per well operated.

Four firms -- EQT, Chevron Appalachia, Consol and Shell -- who told the public they would adhere to higher standards when they formed the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, were also among the worst offenders. Together they racked up at least 100 infractions even after they pledged to do better in 2013.

"Even when the very best technological efforts, however, are made, the probability of unintended adverse outcomes remains a significant concern," said Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, MD, MPH, member of SUNY Albany's Institute for Health and the Environment and President of Bushkin Public Health and Preventive Medicine Consulting. "Accidents happen. Deterioration of equipment happens. Chemical emissions and spills occur frequently. Furthermore, the inherent design of the entire industry, at every level of technological planning, leads inevitably to irreversible pollution of air, water, soil, the ecosystem and the food chain. The threat to human health is widespread and affects every organ system with acute and chronic suffering."

"The results could not be more clear. Fracking is a leaky, failure-prone technology that is not safe and cannot be made safe by rules, good intentions, or promises to do better next time," said Sandra Steingraber, PhD., biologist and science advisor to Americans Against Fracking. "President Obama needs to follow Governor Cuomo's lead and ban fracking."

In light of the report's findings, Environment New York and its allies urge New York's Congressional representatives to do all they can to support the fracking ban in New York and to advocate for a fracking ban on all federal public land.

"Governor Cuomo listened to the science and the real data on drilling damage," said Leibowitz. "This is what true leadership looks like and its essential for our Congressional representatives to follow his lead."


Environment New York Research & Policy Center is statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.

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