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What fines reveal about drilling in state

April 21, 2011

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette filed a Right-to-Know request with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a list of all fines levied against Marcellus Shale drilling companies.

Selected excerpts from this Pittsburgh Post Gazette article showing what this request found:

• Between 2005 and Feb. 1, 2011, DEP regulators have imposed 89 fines against Marcellus Shale-related companies for a total of $2,106,318, though for reasons the DEP could not explain, it omitted seven of the cases from its initial response;

• The average fine is $23,666, but if the four largest fines that together total $764,590 are taken out, the average dips to $15,785;

• Nearly one-third of the cases involved some type of discharge of either frack water, drill pit water, drill cuttings and mud, or some other type of industrial waste that either was spilled, overflowed a pit, or blew out onto the ground and in some cases reached local streams or wetlands;

• There was just one fine in 2006 and one in 2007, then 11 in 2008, but 32 in 2009, 42 in 2010 and two more in January 2011;

• The fines are — not surprisingly — concentrated in two of DEP’s six geographic areas, with 42 fines in the heavily drilled southwest region, and 38 in equally busy north-central, and just five in the northeast and four in the northwest region;

• A total of 32 companies had at least one fine, but 63 of the 89 fines were assessed against just 13 companies that all had three or more violations;

• Chief had the most fines with nine cases, followed by Range Resources and Chesapeake Energy (seven each), then Atlas Energy Resources (six) and Energy Corp. of America (five);

• EOG Resources had the single largest fine ($353,419) and was fined the most in total with $386,141, followed by Atlas ($295,300) Range ($288,875) Cabot ($192,069) and XTO Energy ($166,630).

To see an interactive map of Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale drilling permits and violations with fines, click here.

State officials as well as environmental organizations are looking to increase industry fines.

“A fine for environmental drillers really should hurt the pocketbook,” said PennFuture president Jan Jarrett.

“Even that $24,000 average [fine], in terms of the cost of putting up one of those multimillion dollars wells, that’s just so much background noise to these companies.”

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