You’ve read about Energy Corporation of America well violations in Pennsylvania. An analysis of data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection shows that, since 2005, they’ve had 66 inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, and 55 enforcement actions, with fines totaling over $80,000. The Billings Gazette touched on community reactions to this record in an article last Friday.
But what is not covered in the Gazette article is that ECA violations are dramatically underreported. According to Breaking All the Rules: The Crisis is Oil and Gas Regulatory Enforcement, a study published by Earthworks Action in September, 2012 (during the period of analysis above) the ECA violations are almost certainly much greater than those in the report. Among the report’s findings:
- Every year hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells – 53 to 91% of wells in the states studied (close to 350,000 active wells in the six states, including Pennsylvania) are operating with no inspections to determine whether they are in compliance with state rules.
- When inspections do uncover rule violations, the violations often are not formally recorded – and the decision whether or not to record a violation is often left to the discretion of the individual inspector.
- When violations are recorded, they result in few penalties.
- When penalties are assessed, they are minor. They provide little incentive for companies to stop the offense.
The report states that in Pennsylvania in 2010, inspectors were unable to monitor 82,000 wells, 91% of the state’s total number of active wells!
So let’s do some back of the envelope math. The Pennsylvania DEP report shows 10 violations in 2010. If, as suggested above, only 9% of wells were inspected, should we expect that there were actually an additional 100 violations that went unreported? That instead of 90 violations, they’ve committed 1000 since 2005? We have no way of knowing, but the fact that most wells went untested shows that we need to regard ECA as a serial polluter.
Is the situation different in Montana? Not likely. The state has a total of seven field inspectors: three in Sidney, two in Billings, and two in Shelby.
It looks like Montana is ready to make the same mistakes made elsewhere: letting the fox into the henhouse.