Report Identifies Problems with Oil and Gas Enforcement

by S. Tom Bond on October 22, 2012

Report Identifies Problems with Oil and Gas Enforcement
Lisa Sumi of Earthworks and the Oil and Gas Depletion Center has prepared a report on Oil and Gas regulatory enforcement entitled “Breaking All the Rules.”  The 124 page report compares regulation and enforcement in six states, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The list of complaints will be familiar to anyone who has read widely on shale drilling.  What is new in the report is the attention to detail  and the careful documentation, state by state.
“Overall, and without exception,” Sumi says, “inspection capacity for each of the six states examined is egregiously lacking.”  The number of inspections for each inspector varied widely , and even where guidelines have been provided, the number of inspections is grossly inadequate.  Citizens living near the well sites could play a role, because, other than the workers themselves, they are most likely to discover problems.  Sumi suggests a binding policy for inspections of citizen complaints should be part of any states’ regulations.
Infraction of regulations is unevenly assed and frequently not available to the public.  Many violators are not issued citations.  Punishment in the form of fines or sanctions is erratic, and enforcement, when applied, is too small, hence it is difficult to get operators to come into compliance. Often the fines are set by regulations so old they do not apply to present economic conditions.  Repeat violations are not punished more severely, Sumi says.
Staffing is a problem, because the relation between agency staff and the industry is very close.  Industry hires away well trained staff, because they can pay more than the agency is allowed to pay its staff.  States need to recognize the loss and provide competitive salaries.
“During oil and gas booms, state agencies typically come under pressure from the oil and gas industry (as well as some elected officials) to expedite permits for drilling and other oil and gas development processes. By reducing the time spent on reviewing permits, agencies are less likely to consider site-specific permit conditions, which could ultimately impede enforcement actions,” Sumi says. “Agencies should focus on a thorough review of permits.”
Burden of proof usually lies on the state agency or citizens who claim violations due to pollution.  Frequently, neither state agencies nor citizens have the financial resources to do sampling and monitoring to show the industry has impacted air, water or health.  On the other hand, industry has a cadre of in-house experts to draw on to counter complaints.  The standard of proof is often unreasonably high for citizens unversed in the science and regulations.  This allows bad actors in the industry to get away with practices which harm health and environment.  Sumi believes the burden of proof should be on the drillers.

This author fully agrees with Sumi.  A store owner must keep his store safe for the public, salt the sidewalks, notify the public when the floors are wet, and so on.  Since the drilling is the company’s initiative, and they are (supposedly) making money, they should have to accept fault for results of their action. This is one of the most egregious aspects of shale drilling.
For more detail see:   The Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory Enforcement: States are Betraying the Public by Failing to Enforce Oil & Gas Rules

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