For the past 18 months or more the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has steadfastly clung to their mantra that there have been no drilling accidents in NY. Ever. And we've had lots of experience with drilling, they say, noting that since the 1800's there have been close to 70,000 wells drilled in the state.
Furthermore, many of these wells have used fracking, they add, claiming that what was safe in the past few decades will continue to be safe for the future.
Apparently they forgot about the 270 drilling accidents reported in the last three decades. Walter Hang, who owns a small research company called Toxics Targeting recently posted a file to his website listing 270 incidents of wastewater spills, well contamination, and other ecological damage related to gas production since 1979.
Hang, who has also mapped TCE plumes in the local neighborhoods in Ithaca, NY, is an environmental advocate. While he's never come out against gas drilling, he has said on many occasions that there are environmental risks, and has asked for public disclosure by DEC on well accidents. They didn't; Hang did, and now we can read all about it.
The interesting thing Hang noted is that of the 270 incidents he posted, DEC only caught 60 of them. The remainder were reported by citizens - people who were involved in the incident or folks who just happened to notice something looked wrong and called it in.
Hang's release of this data comes just as DEC announces a 30-day extension for comments on the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) for horizontal drilling/hydrofracking in the shales. You can find that 809-page document on the DEC website.
It also comes on the heels of an announcement by PA's Department of Environmental Protection fining Cabot Oil and Gas $120,000 for damages and ordering the company to restore or provide a permanent alternative for the drinking water wells destroyed by methane migration earlier this year. You can read the full announcement here.
The most interesting thing to notice about the spills Hang posted is that in the first dozen the cause is "equipment failure". The next interesting thing is that there are no penalties. Here's a sampling of incidents from Hang's files:
November 1996- a resident in Freedom complained about a problem with drinking water from his home well. He thought it might be related to the gas drilling over on Bixby Rd about a mile from his house. The DEC investigator commented that gas escaped through a fault in the shale and affected properties 1 and 1/2 miles away. He found gas bubbling up in ponds and ditches, and they evacuated 12 families. The problem? An equipment failure. The penalty? None.
October 1997 in Willing, NY - a brine tank overflowed spilling 15,000 gallons which flowed through a field and into a local creek. The brine spill killed vegetation, and a local farmer was concerned about his cows drinking from the creek. Solution: gas company erected a fence so cows wouldn't get to creek and provided temporary water supply. They decided to let natural vegetation grow back following season. The problem? A faulty valve. The penalty? None.
September 2003 in Independence, NY - another brine spill. This time 100,000 gallons spilling into Shanada Creek. DEC comments: no one saw any dead fish. (That means it's good, right?)
The problem? A broken valve. The penalty? Oh, come on.... do I have to really say it again?
You can read the entire report here. Just don't eat your lunch while reading....