Spotty enforcement in the gas patch

 

Multiple choice question:

Last year, Colorado collected $1.2 million, Wyoming $15,500, California $13,123 and New Mexico $0, for fines associated with what activity?

A. Poaching of big game animals

B. Misleading labeling of food items

C. Oil and gas drilling

D. Late returns of library books

If you picked C, you're correct, according to a new special report from Environment and Energy Daily, Ground Rules (subscription required). The report provides details about violations, enforcement actions and fines for oil and gas drilling in the 12 biggest drilling states, including the 4 Western states mentioned above.

Unless you've been in solitary confinement for the last five years, it probably won't surprise you to learn that most of the time, the agencies and inspectors overseeing the drilling boom aren't exactly acting as vigilant watchdogs. From the report:

Many other states don't track violations, enforcement and the number of penalties assessed against oil and gas producers. To find such information, state employees would have to go back through individual files, as Texas Railroad Commission staff did for the Sunset review (from a state advisory commission). Among those states are Wyoming, North Dakota and New Mexico.

Without that kind of information, the Sunset report said, regulators "cannot determine or ensure effective and consistent enforcement across the state."

The report also discusses the weak oversight of hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, a process in which drillers mix various chemicals with water and sand and inject it underground to release gas deposits:

Obama's fracking panel, formally a subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, has given mixed reviews of state regulation. It delivered an interim report in August that said the effectiveness of current regulations "is far from clear" and added, "Absent effective control, public opposition will grow, thus putting continued production at risk."

The threat hydrofracking poses to groundwater has gotten a lot of media attention this year, as drilling expands in the more populated Eastern states. This summer, we ran a story (jointly with ProPublica) about a man in Pavillion, Wyoming, whose drinking water was apparently polluted by nearby fracking operations.

So far, federal agencies and state governments have largely declined to regulate fracking (apart from a few exceptions like Wyoming), although there are signs of a shift toward stronger oversight of the process and of the industry as a whole.  The EPA recently proposed new air quality rules for gas fields. A Department of Energy panel just issued a report calling for more regulation of fracking.  ProPublica reports:

“Concerted and sustained action is needed to avoid excessive environmental impacts of shale gas production and the consequent risk of public opposition to its continuation and expansion,” said members of the Energy Department’s Shale Gas Subcommittee in a draft report released today.

The report calls on the EPA to revise a proposed rule on air emissions to include limits on methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and criticizes recent moves by the agency that have hindered efforts to get better data from the oil and gas industry, a crucial step toward improving controls.

The report also concludes that joint federal and state efforts to ensure water quality are “not working smoothly” and urges the EPA to move unilaterally to improve oversight as it carries out a study on potential effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

Jodi Peterson is HCN's managing editor.

Image of library books courtesy Flickr user Christy Sheffield.

Image of gas rig in Colorado courtesy Flickr user John Giez.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking two full time community organizers to join our team. Positions can be based in Garfield County, Montrose...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Join our team as the Association's Executive Director. Working closely with the Board of Directors, take ANWS to the next level of professionalism by managing...
  • FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Development Director who will have the overall responsibilities of leading our fundraising programs and reports directly to our...
  • WATER RIGHTS/ADJUDICATION BUREAU CHIEF
    Job Overview: Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that Montana's land and water resources provide benefits for present and future...
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...