Pennsylvania Fracking Companies Regularly Commit Serious Environmental Violations

Demonstrators hold up placards as they take part in an anti-fracking protest outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALASTAIR GRANT
Demonstrators hold up placards as they take part in an anti-fracking protest outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALASTAIR GRANT

Oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania seriously violate environmental rules and regulations, many of them more than once per day, on average.

That, according to areport published Tuesday by Environment America, which compiled violation data for Pennsylvania fracking companies between January 1, 2011, and August 31, 2014. It found that the top 20 most frequently-violating companies broke the rules 1.5 times per day on average.

“These violations are not ‘paperwork’ violations, but lapses that pose serious risks to workers, the environment and public health,” the report’s authors write. The violations include a 4,700-gallon hydrochloric acid spill that occurred at a Chief Oil & Gas drilling site in Bradford County, PA and that ended up flowing into a nearby creek and causing a fish kill. They also included instances of companies dumping fracking waste into streams and creeks, a practice that drilling company EQT Production was cited twice for in 2012, according to the report. The report also found 243 cases of fracking operations impacting drinking water due to well problems between December 2007 and August 2014.

Environment America looked at the number of citations issued to fracking companies in Pennsylvania during that time period in order to gather its data, but the organization notes that the total number of violations committed by fracking companies is probably higher than the total number of citations. Environment America says in the report that this discrepancy is in part due to “Pennsylvania’s consistent pattern of conducting fewer inspections than state rules require, and because inspectors regularly decline to issue violation notices when companies voluntarily agree to fix problems.”


A report from Pennsylvania’s Auditor General last year did find that the state wasn’t prepared for its natural gas boom, and that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection wasn’t able to keep up with the surge of fracking activity.

“It is almost like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in a statement last year. “There is no question that DEP needs help and soon to protect clean water.”

The report also didn’t include air pollution violations in its analysis, which contributes to its low estimate of the total number of citations. Studies — including those focused on Pennsylvania — have shown that some of the methane produced by oil and gas wells escapes into the atmosphere, and other toxins — including benzene and carbon monoxide — can also be emitted during the fracking process.

The Environment America report isn’t the first to tally the citations given to oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania. One 2014 report from researchers in the U.K. found that one-third of a set of 3,533 wells in Pennsylvania had been reported for environmental violations between 2008 and 2011. The violations included land spills, well failures, surface water contamination, and site restoration problems. The researchers also looked at a set of 8,030 wells, and found that 506 of them had been reported for well barrier failures between 2005 and 2013.

Other reports and studies have also highlighted the effect fracking is having in Pennsylvania, a state that, because of its position over the Marcellus Shale, has experienced a fracking boom in recent years. Last August, Pennsylvania’s DEP made public 243 cases in which oil and gas drilling operations had contaminated private drinking wells in the state. A Pennsylvania study from last July found that the closer someone in Pennsylvania lives to a fracking well, the more likely that person is to have drinking water contaminated with methane.