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Michael Roberts
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Gas Leaks and Oil Spills Under Scrutiny

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Data on spills and other violations regarding oil and gas wells across the country has been analyzed in a new report titled, “Fracking’s Most Wanted: Lifting the Veil on Oil and Gas Company Spills and Violations,” by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group.

The NRDC evaluation aims to determine whether information about oil and gas company violations is publicly accessible nationwide, as well as assessing the reliability of available information. The group analyzed dozens of state databases. But only three out of 36 states with active gas and oil operations – Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia – have easily accessible, available data on spills and other violations that the public can access. However, that information is still often misleading, incomplete or difficult to interpret.

“People deserve to know what’s happening in their own backyards, but too often homeowners aren’t even informed if there’s a threat to their health,” said Amy Mall, report co-author and senior policy analyst at NRDC.

The report shows that state regulators often fail to inform landowners or their neighbors when violations occur, and allow companies to continue operating even after repeat violations.

Colorado’s database isn’t searchable and doesn’t include violation descriptions. Pennsylvania and West Virginia both organized their violation data in ways the NRDC referred to as “overly vague.” For instance, West Virginia’s database lists the name of the affected stream, but fails to describe the extent of any potential damage. Colorado lists how far the incident occurred from drinking water sources and notes if the groundwater or surface water was affected but it doesn’t name the involved bodies of water. What constitutes a violation under the law varies by state.

The information available is eye-opening in terms of frequency and the shocking nature of the some of the impacts when things go wrong, said Matt Kelso, FracTracker’s Manager of Data and Technology.

“This industry is already immense and rapidly growing. It develops in residential communities, sensitive ecological areas, and everywhere in between. Our research shows the need for increased transparency about the compliance record of the industry, especially given those vulnerable areas and populations.”

The NRDC report notes that federal violation information can be difficult to find. The Environmental Protection Agency has an online violation tracking system known as the Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO), which contains information on a number of violations of federal environmental regulations across all types. But the group argues that the database is hard to navigate and not user -friendly. Users have to know specific industry codes in order to narrow down their search, and even then, researchers found that information like the date of the violation or the party responsible was sometimes missing from the database.

NRDC argues that states need better regulations and disclosure policies that would “ensure that the public can easily find information on violations, and that illegal acts are recorded.”

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