August 4, 2014

I've been saying it for years: Tax cuts and austerity cuts are merely high-interest loans against future necessities. How much money have state Republicans saved Pennsylvanians by looking the other way while Marcellus Shale drillers pollute our water supply?

Half the spills at Marcellus Shale well sites that resulted in fines weren’t spotted by gas companies, which are required by state law to look for and report spills of drilling-related fluids.

That is one of the main conclusions of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review of hundreds of thousands of state and company documents for every incident at a Marcellus well site that led to a fine against a driller through the end of 2012.

The documentation showing that companies often failed to detect spills on their own sites offers a look at self-regulation in the shale gas industry.

Wait, what? You're saying that self-regulation for companies that pollute may not be that accurate? C'est fou! Next you'll be telling me Jesus didn't ride dinosaurs!

State regulation of the industry was the subject of a withering state auditor general review of the Department of Environmental Protection’s oversight issued July 22. The audit detailed the agency’s shortcomings, including failing to consistently issue enforcement orders to drilling companies after regulators determined that gas operations had damaged water supplies, even though the state’s oil and gas law requires it.

The Post-Gazette investigation using well permit file documents and other DEP data focused on 425 incidents involving 48 companies that resulted in nearly $4.4 million in fines.

Of those 425 fines, 137 were due to spills at or near a well site. They ranged from relatively small incidents involving a couple of gallons of diesel fuel on a well pad to larger accidents involving thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing flowback fluid that killed vegetation or fish.

Since the first fine of the Marcellus era in 2005, the DEP has made it clear that incidents that potentially impact the environment would be the ones most likely to result in a fine, so it is no surprise that spills make up a significant portion of the fines.

But what is surprising — to politicians, environmental groups, the industry itself and state officials — was the number of spills that were not first spotted by the drillers themselves. About a third were first identified by state inspectors while others, about one-sixth, were discovered by residents, according to the Post-Gazette’s analysis.

Hmm. Now, let's think about that. Which people are most motivated to protect their drinking water? State inspectors, who might conceivably upset Gov. Tom Corbett by upsetting his donors, or the poor people WHO HAVE TO DRINK THE WATER?

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