States fail to enforce own drilling regulations

States across the country are failing to enforce their own oil and gas development regulations, a new research study showed.


ISS SourceThe one-year, in-depth research project examined enforcement data and practices in Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, New York, New Mexico and Colorado and included interviews with ex-industry and state agency employees, according the to report entitled, Breaking All the Rules: The Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory Enforcement by Earthworks, a nonprofit.

“State enforcement of oil and gas rules is broken,” said Earthworks’ Senior Staff Attorney Bruce Baizel. “Across the country, public health and safety are at risk because states are failing to uphold the rule of law. Until states can guarantee they are adequately enforcing their own rules on an ongoing basis, state agencies must not permit new drilling.”

Failure to enforce oil and gas regulations means states are not seeking, documenting, sanctioning, deterring, and cleaning up problems associated with irresponsible oil and gas operations such as chemical spills, equipment failure, accidents and discharges into drinking water supplies.

Among the study’s findings:

  • More than half of all wells go uninspected each year: Hundreds of thousands of active oil and gas wells across the country do not undergo inspections.
  • Companies found in violation rarely suffer a penalty: Ambiguous policies and rules leave the consequences for violations unclear to the public, companies and even the inspectors themselves. Consequences vary from violation to violation.
  • Penalties are so weak it is cheaper for violators to pay the penalty than comply with the law: The total value of financial penalties in each state studied is less than or equivalent to the value of the gas contained in one single well.

Drawn from the data analysis and stakeholder interviews, the report makes numerous policy and regulatory recommendations to address the enforcement crisis, including:

  • Increase inspection/enforcement resources until they meet a systematically and transparently developed minimum.
  • Clarify and update rules so inspectors, companies, and the public know when operators are in violation, and the consequences.
  • Formalize the public’s role in enforcement, including sharing information with the public and allowing citizen suits.

“This report shows that the industry’s claim that ‘oil and gas development doesn’t threaten public health’ is a fraud,” said Earthworks Executive Director Jennifer Krill. “Until common sense changes are implemented, states must refuse to issue new drilling permits.”

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