|Bradford County, PA Sept 2012|
While New Yorkers debate the safety of hydrofracking, state regulatory reports show problems with conventional oil and gas drilling. According to AP reporter Mary Esch, reports by NY regulators “reveal thousands of unplugged abandoned wells and other industrial problems that could pose a threat to groundwater, wetlands, air quality and public safety.”
Two days ago Walter Hang, president of the Ithaca-based firm, Toxics Targeting, released documents and a video highlighting some of those shortcomings. The big question, he wonders, is whether the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is equipped to regulate hydrofracking.
At the heart of the problem is the lack of inspections – and state inspectors. A July report by Earthworks found that oil and gas well inspections occur too infrequently and too irregularly; fines are inadequate; lack of data prevents public scrutiny of DEC's oversight; and citizen complaints seem to be ignored.
DEC has proposed, in the SGEIS, that if high-volume hydraulic fracturing is used to drill wells in NY, drilling permits will be issued only to the extent that the department can review and oversee activities and adequately inspect well pads and enforce regulation. But their 15 or so inspectors can’t even keep up with wells already in production.
From 2001 – 2010 the number of oil and gas well inspections decreased by more than 1,000 per year. In 2001 the Division of Mineral Resources conducted one inspection per 2.6 active wells. By 2010 they were only able to conduct one inspection for every 4 active wells. During that same decade, the number of active wells increased by 1,000 – leaving 76% of New York’s active wells uninspected.
The low fines don’t seem to deter companies from taking shortcuts and polluting the soil and water. In 2006 only 12 enforcement cases resulted in penalties, and the fines are generally less than $2,000 per case. Low penalties certainly won’t deter violators and can’t even begin to compensate those harmed by methane migration and brine spills.