Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Oil and gas spills are common, but fines are rare

Oil and gas spills by drillers and well operators are common, 16 per day, but fines against them are rare. More than 6,000 spills were reported at onshore oil and gas sites in 2012, an increase of 17 percent from 2010, and the number must be higher, since not all spills are required to be reported.

"There are no national figures on oil and gas spills or enforcement," Mike Soraghan reports for Environment and Energy News. "But where state records are available, they show agencies pursue fines against oil and gas producers in only a small minority of spill cases."

Soraghan bases that on a sampling of reports from Colorado and Pennsylvania, one of 10 states required to report to FracFocus. He found that more than 20 percent of spills are reported late, and those companies are rarely fined.

"In Texas, the leading producer of oil and gas, regulators sought enforcement for 2 percent of the 55,000 violations identified by drilling inspectors in the last fiscal year," Soraghan reports. Pennsylvania officials levied fines against 13 percent of cases where inspectors found violations, Wyoming only pursed fines in 10 of 204 recorded spills, while New Mexico hasn't issued a fine in years.

The problem, some say, is that states don't make any attempt to take a hard stance against violators. "Most state oil and gas agencies are charged with promoting drilling in the state, in addition to regulating it," Soraghan writes. "Inspectors and the people who oversee them often come from the oil and gas industry. It's not considered a conflict of interest. It's often a job requirement."

National environmental groups want changes, and are "pushing Congress to give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to regulate the nation's drilling boom instead of leaving regulation to the states," Soraghan writes. "But under President Obama, EPA has frequently retreated from big drilling enforcement cases." (Read more)

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