Frackers Allowed to Violate Pennsylvania Natural Gas Drilling Regulations

Some Pennsylvania natural gas drillers appear to be violating state environmental regulations by failing to submit “well records” to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in a timely manner. According to a ProPublica report, some drillers performing hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus shale have waited months – sometimes until fracking is complete – to submit the required paperwork.

Drillers are supposed to submit well records to the Pennsylvania DEP within 30 days of the start of drilling. But according to ProPublica, the well record is on the same piece of paper as a form that companies must file after wells are fracked. The time between the commencement of drilling and the conclusion of fracking can span several months, and some DEP offices have allowed companies to submit both records at once, the report said.

A spokesperson for the DEP acknowledged that some offices haven’t enforced the law, but she told ProPublica that the reporting delay doesn’t present a danger because in most cases the department relies on inspections, rather than the reports, to ensure that wells are drilled to code.

But according to ProPublica, some of the wells that are the subject of the reporting delays aren’t always inspected. One case in point: The 3H well on the Lbros farm in southwest Pennsylvania, operated by Range Resources. Range didn’t submit its well record to the DEP until February 2010 – a month after fracking at the well was completed. ProPublica checked the DEP’s online reporting system, which was updated in August, and found that the 3H well, as well as three others on the same property, had never been inspected.

The DEP spokesperson assured ProPublica that when inspectors can’t make it to a site, they keep in touch with drillers by phone and e-mail. However, she did say the DEP plans to address the reporting discrepancy, but wouldn’t say when.

This is the second time frackers have been accused of violating regulations. Earlier this week, several natural gas drillers faced scrutiny for using diesel fuel in their fracturing fluids injected into the ground from 2005 to 2009. In a letter to the EPA, Representatives Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, argued that the use of diesel fuel was a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act because the companies did not seek permits.

In their letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the lawmakers raised concerns that diesel fuel in the fluids could pollute drinking water supplies, though the probe found no evidence of drinking <"">water contamination from fracking. They urged EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to consider the issue “as part of your investigation into the industry’s practices.”

Not surprisingly, the drillers dispute the contention that their use of diesel fuel violated the law. According to an email ProPublica got from Halliburton Co., “there are currently no requirements in the federal environmental regulations that require a company to obtain a federal permit prior to undertaking a hydraulic fracturing project using diesel.”

A spokesperson for Baker Hughes, which owns the drilling company BJ Services, also told ProPublica that the company hadn’t violated any laws, arguing that an agreement between the EPA and the industry not to use diesel applied only to coal bed methane wells and that the EPA never articulated its rules under the Safe Drinking Water Act for other applications.

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