Fracking Failures, Organizing Successes

It's been an inspiring week in the fight against fracking, the drilling technique that's contaminated water, caused air pollution, and sickened communities around the world. Last week, the Scottish government issued an indefinite moratorium on the practice. Here in the United States, following dogged organizing by Pennsylvania activists and in fulfillment of a campaign promise, newly-elected Gov. Tom Wolf reinstated the Keystone State's moratorium on drilling in state parks and forests.

Communities organizing against fracking are making progress for good reason. From the very beginning of clearing a site for drilling, through extraction, transport and delivery of finished products, fracking poses significant risks to our air and water and to human health.

Oil and gas industry spokespeople routinely maintain that the risks of fracking can be minimized by best practices and appropriate state regulation. This is false, of course; fracking is harmful even when drillers follow all the rules. But oil and gas operators also regularly violate essential environmental and public health protections, undermining their own claims.

An Environment America Research & Policy Center report, Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S., released this week, found that all types oil and gas companies break the rules and regulations meant to protect the environment and human health on virtually a daily basis.

The top 20 offenders we examined ranged from Fortune 500 companies like Cabot Oil, to fly-by-night operators, to firms like Chevron who tout their clean records. The analysis of Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry over a four-year period found that the worst violators of air, water, and health protections averaged 1.5 violations every day.

These infractions are not matters of paperwork, but lapses that pose serious risks to workers, the environment and public health. They include allowing toxic chemicals to leach into the air and water, endangering drinking water through improper well construction, and dumping industrial waste into waterways.

Houston-based Cabot Oil, a key Halliburton contractor, committed the most total violations with 265, and Chesapeake Oil was close behind. Pittsburgh-based Atlas was guilty of the most breaches for every well drilled, while Dallas-based Mieka was responsible for the most per well operated.

Four firms -- EQT, Chevron Appalachia, Consol and Shell -- who told the public they would adhere to higher standards when they formed the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, were also among the worst offenders. Together they racked up at least 100 infractions even after they pledged to do better in 2013.

Tighter regulations on fracking are certainly better than none. But our analysis suggests that when it comes to fracking, the rules are made to be broken. The best way to protect public health and the environment from this dirty drilling practice is to halt it altogether. And this week, an entire country and at least Pennsylvania's parks and forests finally got the protection they deserve.