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Report Shows How Fracking Industry's Failure to Follow Regulations Impacts Human Health

A new report out today from Environment America Research & Policy Center shows that all types of fracking companies, from small to large, are prone to violating rules intended to protect human health and the environment.

The report, Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S., analyses Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry over a four-year period and found that the top offenders of regulations—averaging more than one environmental violation every day—represented a wide range of companies from Fortune 500 companies like Cabot Oil, to mom-and-pop operators, to firms like Chevron.

“Fracking is an inherently risky, dirty, dangerous practice, and regulations can’t change that,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America. “But this report shows that a range of oil and gas companies struggle to meet even modest protections for our environment and public health.”

The report tracks lapses such as allowing toxic chemicals to leach into the air and water, endangering drinking water through improper well construction and dumping industrial waste into waterways.

According to Environment America, fracking operators in Pennsylvania have committed thousands of violations of oil and gas regulations since 2011 with violations that are not “paperwork” violations, but lapses that pose serious risks to workers, the environment and public health, including:

  • Allowing toxic chemicals to flow off drilling sites and into local soil and water. In July 2012, for example, Chief Oil & Gas was cited by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) when the company allowed 4,700 gallons of hydrochloric acid to flow off of its drilling site in Leroy Township, Bradford County, and into nearby Towanda Creek, causing a fish kill.
  • Endangering drinking water through improper well construction. Well problems, including leaks, contaminated drinking water supplies in as many as 243 cases across Pennsylvania between December 2007 and August 2014—81 of them between 2011 and 2014. In one such case Carrizo (Marcellus) LLC was cited for failing to properly restore a water supply its fracking activities had contaminated.
  • Dumping industrial waste into local waterways. One operator, EQT Production, was cited twice in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for violations at a well in Duncan Township, Tioga County, that polluted a local stream.
  • Otherwise disposing of waste improperly. In one 2012 incident at an Exco Resources well in Bell Township, Clearfield County, the company was cited for contaminating underground drinking water supplies as a result of leaks from a well drilled for the specific purpose of injecting toxic waste underground.

The report ranks Pennsylvania’s 20 most frequently cited fracking companies by number of environmental and health violations from January 2011-August 2014. Houston-based Cabot Oil, a Halliburton contractor, committed the most total violations with 265.

The report highlights the growing number of scientific studies that links the drilling practices of fracking to various health risks. Studies have shown that the proximity to well pads increases a person's risk for respiratory and neurological problems, as well as birth defects. Here's a chart showing the recognized health effects of air emissions from natural gas activities:

This report comes on the heels of the worst fracking wastewater spill in North Dakota since the boom began in the state, leaking 3 million gallons into the river.

“Fracking is a failure for our environment and health,” said Rumpler. “That’s why we should keep this dirty drilling out of our national parks, forests and other public lands.”

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