Report says states are too lax on oil, gas

Fort Worth Star-Telegram | Jim Fuquay

September 25, 2012
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States don't adequately regulate oil and gas production activities, says a new study by an environmental group, which urges them to establish firm rules for how often wells are inspected.

State regulators should require oil and gas producers to do their own monitoring of emissions and pollution, and should charge more for drilling permits to help cover the costs of boosting enforcement, says the study by the Washington-based Earthworks and its oil and gas accountability project.

In Texas, the group says, the Railroad Commission has conducted fewer inspections despite more staff while fines are too low to deter violators. Earthworks said fewer than half the producing wells in Texas were inspected in 2009.

Industry groups and the Texas Railroad Commission disagreed, saying the states have provided effective regulation for decades.

, The commission said in a statement that in the just-ended fiscal 2012, agency personnel inspected 118,484 leases, identifying 55,960 alleged violations. (The agency says it counts inspections by lease, which often include more than one well.)

While "the overwhelming majority of operators bring their leases into compliance," the agency said it assessed $1,965,019 in penalties for the year ended Aug. 31.

Earthworks said the agency too rarely takes enforcement action on violations.

Ed Ireland of the industry-backed Barnett Shale Energy Education Council said violations such as spills can be "as little as a drop of hydraulic fluid" but must still be reported.

Besides Texas, Earthworks examined Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, New Mexico and New York, which in 2010 declared a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.\

The six states account for 46 percent of U.S. oil and gas production.

Pennsylvania and Ohio each didn't inspect 91 percent of active oil and gas wells in 2010, the Earthworks report said.

In New Mexico, the top fine of $1,000 per day for violations has been in place for more than 75 years.

"States are dangerously unprepared to oversee current levels of extraction," the report said.

Producers and states have long argued in favor of state regulation and oppose federal rules proposed by President Barack Obama's administration. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has sided with producers and the states.

"Environmental groups want centralized planning and control and are constantly trying to denigrate state regulators," said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, a Denver-based trade organization. "States have an exemplary safety and environmental protection record when it comes to hydraulic fracturing."

Colorado, after resolving a backlog of enforcement cases, collected more fines in 2011 than the previous year, Earthworks said.

"A strong regulatory program aligns well with a healthy, productive industry that is providing the state and the country with energy essential to all of us in our daily lives," Todd Hartman of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said by e-mail.

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Tagged with: fracking, enforcement

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