On Aug. 23, the PA DEP issued an “environmental health and safety” violation to Rex Energy for “failure to properly store, transport, process or dispose of a residual waste” in Lancaster Township, Butler County. (Note: “Residual waste” from hydraulic fracturing is generally toxic.)
And on Oct. 24, another violation of the same type occurred at a Rex Energy well in Penn Township, Butler County.
I know this because my wife and I subscribe to an online service that continuously monitors the DEP violations database and sends us notifications of violations in our area.
This online service is a valuable resource, because the DEP is not legally required to report drilling violations to the public, nor to local officials, and so, for the most part, it doesn't.
If I wanted to learn more about this violation, I would need to apply to DEP for a “file review” – a rather involved process which would include a trip to the Northwest District office in Meadville.
An in-depth analysis of DEP data by the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, “Risky Business: An Analysis of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Violations in Pennsylvania 2008-2011,” identified a total of 3,355 violations of environmental laws by 64 different Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011.
Of these violations, the Center identified 2,392 violations that likely posed a direct threat to the environment and were not reporting or paperwork violations. Of these thousands of violations, perhaps a handful have received any media attention.
In March, the supervisors of Center Township, Greene County, learned of a 480-gallon diesel spill into a local stream. The spill occurred in December. They learned about it because a reporter from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review did a violations file review.
The supervisors were upset, saying that DEP should have notified them. Department officials told them that they wouldn't want to know about “every little spill.”
“It isn't clear that DEP officials should be making that judgment if a 480-gallon spill went unreported to the public,” Edward “Butch” Deter, chairman of the township's board of supervisors and president of the Center Township Volunteer Fire Department, Company 91, told the Trib.
Ed Barale, a supervisor in Amwell Township, Washington County, is also dissatisfied with DEP's lack of notification. DEP officials “don't tell us any more than they have to. I think we have a right to know. DEP keeps you in the dark, so I don't have much faith in them,” he told the Trib.
Eight Amwell residents are suing Range Resources and DEP over environmental and health problems they claim stem from violations committed by Range that the DEP did not report to the public.
Online services such as skytruth.org, epa-echo.gov and fractracker.org can help local residents to stay abreast of drilling violations in our area, and also, via skytruth, of new drilling permits that have been issued by the DEP for our area.
But wouldn't it be nice if the DEP would issue regular detailed drilling violation reports to all state media outlets, and especially to local officials and all residents within a mile or two of violation sites?
One would think DEP would do this out of a sense of moral responsibility, or that state lawmakers would make it a legal requirement. If these violations were made public, maybe local residents would have a clearer, more realistic perception of the “safe and responsible drilling” taking place in their communities.