The risks to groundwater, the environment, and public health from leaks and spills from unconventional gas drilling are significant. There should be a zero-tolerance policy by both regulators and drillers. But in Pennsylvania, it appears that the latter, at least, just ain't so.
This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article is a must-read. The newspaper reviewed "hundreds of thousands of state and company documents for every incident at a Marcellus well site that led to a fine against a driller through the end of 2012" and found that:
Half the spills at Marcellus Shale well sites that resulted in fines weren’t spotted by gas companies, which are required by state law to look for and report spills of drilling-related fluids...
The Post-Gazette investigation using well permit file documents and other DEP data focused on 425 incidents involving 48 companies that resulted in nearly $4.4 million in fines.
Of those 425 fines, 137 were due to spills at or near a well site.
And half of those spills weren't detected by the drillers themselves.
(t)he Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group that represents all of the main drillers in the state, dismissed the Post-Gazette’s analysis of spills and fines because the number of incidents represented just a small percentage of active well sites in the state (more than 6,000 wells drilled through 2012).
So, are 137 spills - that were documented - acceptable to the industry?
Is the fact that half of them weren't detected by drillers also acceptable to the industry?
Regardless of percentages, neither should be acceptable to the industry - whose social license to operate remains at risk - nor to regulators, nor to the citizens of Pennsylvania.
Self-regulation doesn't work. Period. There's no substitute for performance by the industry - every well, every time - and for tough regulations, ubiquitous monitoring, and strict enforcement.
Bravo to the Post-Gazette for its investigative reporting - a true public service.