Wednesday, December 30, 2009

States struggle to keep up with natural-gas drilling; EPA tells New York state to be careful

"State oil and gas regulators are spread too thin to do their jobs," ProPublica reports, in the nonprofit journalism outlet's latest look at natural-gas drilling. The country has "nearly one million active oil and gas wells, a number that's likely to climb as the feverish growth in natural-gas exploration continues," Abram Lustgarten writes.

Lustgarten examined the states where drilling has expanded rapidly. "While the number of new oil and gas wells being drilled in the 22 states each year has jumped 45 percent since 2004, most of the states have added only a few regulators," who are usually also responsible for overseeing oil drilling. "Those with the widest gaps are Texas, which is already grappling with the most drilling, and New York, which is expected to soon have the fastest rate of growth. As regulators' workloads have grown, enforcement actions -- the number of times violations were recorded and acted on -- have dropped in many states, often by more than half. That could mean companies are complying with the law -- or that inspectors aren't checking the wells." In our experience, both are true, but better compliance usually follows better enforcement.

There were exceptions; in Kentucky since 2006, drilling has declined but enforcement actions have increased. In Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the state that provided the example that Lustgarten used to start his story, drilling declined greatly this year but staffing and enforcement actions have gone up. ProPublica has a state-by-state database here; its latest wrapup story is here. UPDATE, Jan. 5: The database has been updated with information from Montana, where enforcement is up.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency, responding to New York state's proposed drilling regulations, told the state "that it had major concerns about how proposed hydraulic drilling for natural gas would affect public health and the environment, and urged it to undertake a broader study of the potential impact," Mireya Navarro of The New York Times reports. "It recommended that “essential environmental protection measures” be taken before the state begins to review permit applications for the drilling." (Read more)

1 comment:

Martha Speaks said...

There will never be enough government inspectors. Learn from our mistakes in Kentucky with radioactive waste at oil production sites. Concerned landowners should band together and hire an independent inspector to ensure that the oil and gas companies comply with environmental regulations. These companies like to privatize the profits and socialize the cleanup costs. Landowners and taxpayers are likely to be stuck with the bill for cleanup after the companies are gone.