State oversight of gas drilling has been effective at reducing environmental problems in Pennsylvania and will prevent major problems in New York if the state allows drilling to begin, a new study said.
The report, conducted by the University at Buffalo’s new shale gas institute, examined almost 3,000 violations from nearly 4,000 gas wells in Pennsylvania since 2008. It found 62 percent of the violations were administrative and 38 percent were environmental. The environmental violations stemmed from 845 events — 25 of them classified as “major,” defined as site restoration failures, serious contamination of water supplies, major land spills, blowouts, and venting and gas migration.
Even as the overall number of violations increased as more companies drilled wells, the percentage of environmental violations compared to the number of wells drilled fell from 58.2 percent in 2008 to 30.5 percent in 2010.
“The data in this study demonstrates that the odds of non-major environmental events, and the much smaller odds of major environmental events, are being reduced even further by enhanced regulation and improved industry practice,” said lead author Timothy Considine.
The report said in 2008, companies drilled 170 shale gas wells in Pennsylvania and there were 99 environmental violations, meaning 58 percent of all wells drilled incurred some violation. In the first eight months of 2011, they say 1,248 wells drilled and there were 331 recorded environmental violations, meaning 26.5 percent of wells had violations.
They cite this as evidence of improved operations and regulation.
However, a main argument by opposition groups is that the cumulative impact of more wells must come under consideration. From that perspective, the study confirms as more wells go in, the number of environmental incidents increases — in fact, the overall number tripled from 2008 to 2011, even though the number per well went down.
“Hundreds of violations per year are not acceptable when it comes to protecting clean air and clean water for people who are forced to live with heavy industrial operations in their backyards,” said Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council.