States Fail to Enforce Their Own Oil, Gas Rules

States Fail to Enforce Their Own Oil, Gas Rules by News Editor, September 29, 2012,  Environment News Service
WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2012 (ENS) – Janet McIntyre suffers from the blood cancer leukemia, and she has experienced seizures and renal failure since gas wells were drilled near her home in Connoquenessing Township, western Pennsylvania. McIntyre says she is exposed to noxious odors and her once clean water is now tainted. “Can I say it was because of them? I don’t know, but I do know a lot of people with the same illnesses,” she said. Yet McIntyre has had a hard time getting answers from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection about whether the energy company doing the drilling is obeying the regulations meant to protect Pennsylvania residents. “I find out more sitting at my computer than the DEP will tell me,” McIntyre told reporters on a teleconference Tuesday. When the emissions were particularly bad, she made inquiries of the energy company and state agency – both told her nothing had happened. “But two or three months later I found out from the DEP website that something did happen,” said McIntyre. “I also found this incident also on the energy company’s website in a message to their shareholders.”

McIntyre is not alone. More and more people across the United States are experiencing similar problems, and new research points the finger of blame at state agencies that are failing to enforce their own oil and gas development regulations. … The newly uncovered enforcement data shows that companies found to be in violation of state regulations are rarely penalized. 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, Earthworks investigators found. Penalties are so weak that 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,” Earthworks says in its report, “Breaking All the Rules: The Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory.” … And the public’s role in enforcement should be formalized, the report recommends, including sharing information with the public and allowing citizen lawsuits. Citizen empowerment would include learning how to document and complain without fear of reprisal. … “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.”

Allan Septoff, Earthworks research and information systems director, told reporters, “Information is the best disinfectant. There’s a reason the oil and gas industry resists requirements to report and they are excluded from the national Toxics Release Inventory. They fight to preserve that. They are justly concerned that the more people know what they do, the harder it will be for them to do it.” [Emphasis added]

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