Appalachian Basin

PennEnvironment Marcellus Shale Violations Report Misses the Mark

Open up most papers this week and you will find a rather startling headline.  In all of its forms, it reads along the lines of: natural gas developers cited for 3,355 violations in four years.  Unfortunately, that is where the story ends in most media accounts.  It’s far from the worst reporting we’ve seen, but it certainly lacks context.  Here we provide that context so folks who live in the heart of the Marcellus Shale can understand exactly what is happening.  It’s nothing like the simplistic story told by the report.

Penn Environment  authored the report.  It seems it was prepared to generate just the splash it received.  With that,  let’s take a closer look at the numbers.  3,355 violations breaks down, on average, to about 835 per year.  Stopping here would still leave half the story untold. To gain full understanding it’s important to understand the number of Marcellus wells developed over the same period.  That number, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, is approximately 4,671 (slightly higher than the 4,596 PennEnvironment reports).  Dividing the violations by the number of wells results in a total of 0.72 violations per well.  Let me repeat that, we get a total of 0.72 violations per well!  Interestingly, PennEnvironment left that part out.  The below graphic provides a good understanding of  how it all  stacks up:

Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Wells vs. Violations, 2008-2011

Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Wells vs. Violations, 2008-2011

More importantly, these violations have been decreasing while natural gas development in the Commonwealth has spiked.  For example,  the number of wells developed last year increased by 426, while the number of violations decreased by 95.  Peeling back another layer, the number of enforcement actions (or significant violations that result in additional action) dropped by a staggering 140.  This trend, combined with the recently announced regulatory compliance tool from IPAA, not to mention FracFocus, clearly highlights the industry-wide commitment to responsible operation and environmental success.  In fact, of these 3,355 violations only 925 have warranted enforcement action.  This lends quite a different story than what PennEnvironment put out for public consumption. This is important information to know when discussing something that is shaping Pennsylvania’s economy, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs, and increasing our energy independence.

Instead of including this needed perspective most reporters bit hook line and sinker at the bait provided by Penn Environment. The same group that  floated a picture of a flooded natural gas rig in Pakistan claiming it was located in Pennsylvania.  Remember?  Like that picture, this report lacks context. Although context, and at times truthfulness, is something PennEnvironment lacks when commenting on natural gas development in the Commonwealth.

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  • Victor Furman
    Posted at 13:20h, 12 February Reply

    Great article and I love the graphics…. here is some more input for you, I went to the PA-Dep website to look at the 3,337 violations and there sure enough listed. It didn’t take long to bring a smile to my face. Here are examples of what I found in the 51 pages of violations since 2008: most were administrative violations such as:
    1.) drilling permit not visible at site, blocked by a truck
    2.) empty lime bag not in waste receptical
    3.) employee not wearing hard hat
    4.) empty 5 gallon gas can in back of pickup truck
    5.) employee not wearing steeltoe shoes
    6.) food on site
    7.) coffee on site
    8.) drill cuttings near well bore site in containment arrea
    9.) tear in plastic liner on containment pad “near top about 18 inches above retention level”
    10) un-marked 1 gallon plastic jug (most likely kool aid)
    11) truck running left unattended
    12) unannounced visitors walking around drill site without proper safety equiptment

    There were some very serious fines and reports like the blowout preventer that failed and spilled tens of thousands of gallons of frack fluid last year . I agree not good but, an “o” ring failed in the blowout preventer not an operator or process. This is a NIMBY argument against drilling that bears no merit. It was an “o”ring that brought down a space shuttle and killed an entire crew including a school teacher from Owego NY in 1985 but we did not shut down the shuttle program until 25 years later. This country is not in the hands of naysayers like those who think American Ingenuity is dead, Thank God. Drilling is here it’s safe and the process is improving greatly as we move forward just as the chat above shows,

  • David
    Posted at 21:38h, 13 February Reply

    So a 72% rate of violation is OK really? glad you are not dealing with a highly regulated industry say like pharmaceutics where that rate would cause the FDA to shut you down and throw away the key.

    If a petroleum refinery had a 72% violation rate it would also be shut down.

    Talking about a spin on bad news this is top is almost at the sound barrier!

    • John
      Posted at 10:30h, 14 February Reply

      For each well being developed, providing hundreds of jobs and millions of revenue for local communities there is less than one violation. Of these, most are minor and pose no threat to the environment. In fact, we were being generous in our assessment. Limit the sample size to just enforcement actions and this percentage craters to below 20%.

      • Elana
        Posted at 21:53h, 14 February Reply

        .72 violations per well? That’s good? So, if you tell a landowner that there’s a 72% chance that there will be a violation on their land, they’ll be OK with that? And only 925 were really serious? That’s a 20% chance that a company will do something seriously wrong at each site. If I knew that I was 20% likely to get into a serious accident while driving home from work, let me tell you what I would not be doing.

        • Tom
          Posted at 06:18h, 15 February Reply

          Clearly, you’ve never dealt with government. No one builds a home without at least one violation of the building code that has to be corrected before getting a permit and virtually everything in the building code would be considered serious. A rate of less than one violation per well is an astounding achievement.

  • D Slottije the 11
    Posted at 02:09h, 16 February Reply

    Tom Thanks for all you and your team do in researching and finding the facts. way back in 2008 I went to a NYRAD meeting because I did not want drilling on my property. It only took me about 15 minutes to realize the people who were running this NYRAD meeting were alarmist and full of themselves. I was on my own ! I can honestly tell you self education is the best way using non biased references such as the ones you reference. The surest way to frack up your mind is using anti web sites that are not only mostly fictional, but contradict themselves

    • Tom
      Posted at 20:42h, 16 February Reply

      Thank you!

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