Enforcement

Wed, 2014-07-23 09:08Sharon Kelly
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Pennsylvania Environmental Regulators Flunk State's Own Shale Gas Audit

In January 2013, Pennsylvania's auditor general announced that he would conduct an investigation into whether state regulators were effectively overseeing the impacts from the shale gas drilling rush.

A year and a half later, the results are in: the state's environmental regulators are failing badly in at least eight major areas, at times declining to cite drillers who broke the law. In a damning 158-page report, the state's auditor general highlighted the agency's wide-ranging failures. The report detailed the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) use of a legal “loop hole” to avoid inspecting wells and described the agnecy's failure to fulfill its duty to track the industry's toxic waste. The report also faulted the agency for a reliance on voluntary measures in policing the industry.

The federal government has largely taken a hands-off approach to policing the drilling boom. What federal rules do exist have various broad exemptions exemptions for the oil and gas industry. Pennsylvania, which features a large swath of the Marcellus shale, is widely viewed as ground zero for the current fracking boom. In the unusually candid report released this week, state auditors have concluded that the state is overwhelmed by the industry and is providing insufficient oversight.

“It is DEP’s responsibility to protect the environment from these environmental risks and to ensure that laws and regulations which govern potential impacts to water quality are enforced,” Pennsylvania's auditors wrote. “Unfortunately, DEP was unprepared to meet these challenges because the rapid expansion of shale gas development has strained DEP, and the agency has failed to keep up with the workload demands placed upon it.”

Auditors described state environmental regulators as woefully outgunned and unprepared for the sudden arrival of the shale gas drilling frenzy.

Wed, 2014-05-28 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Exclusive: Leaked EPA Draft Fracking Wastewater Guidance Suggests Closer Scrutiny for Treatment Plants

One of the most intractable problems related to fracking is that each well drilled creates millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic wastewater.

For the past several years, the Environmental Protection Agency has faced enormous public pressure to ensure this dangerous waste stops ending up dumped in rivers or causing contamination in other ways.

But the drilling boom has proceeded at such an accelerated pace in the United States that regulators have struggled to keep up, to control or even track where the oil and gas industry is disposing of this radioactive waste. As a consequence, hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated waste have ended up in the rivers from which millions of Americans get their drinking water. 

An internal draft EPA document leaked to DeSmog gives a small window into how, after a full decade since the start of the drilling boom, the agency is responding.

The document, dated March 7, 2014, is titled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting and Pretreatment for Shale Gas Extraction Wastewaters: Frequently Asked Questions.”

It's revealing for what it shows about how EPA staff are taking the hazards of fracking wastewater more seriously — and also how little things have changed.

“In general, the EPA memo does a good job of making clear that fracking wastewater discharges are covered under the Clean Water Act, and that proper discharge permitting is required, including setting limits to protect water quality standards and to comply with technology based standards in the Clean Water Act,” explained Clean Water Action attorney Myron Arnowitt, who was asked by DeSmog to review the document. “It is mostly an increased level of detail for regional EPA staff regarding permitting issues under the Clean Water Act, compared to the pervious memo in 2011.”

The document, intended as a guide for local regulators on how the Clean Water Act should be interpreted and applied, is impressive in many ways.

Fri, 2012-01-13 12:53Farron Cousins
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US Chamber of Commerce Jobs Plan Rehashes Old, Debunked Talking Points

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released its “The State of American Business 2012” plan this week, outlining their own vision of how to create jobs in America. There were no surprises in Chamber President Tom Donohue’s address to business leaders. He simply rehashed the same tired talking points that we’ve seen from them for years.

In addition to enacting what they call a “globally competitive tax code” and “fixing our broken immigration system,” the Chamber threw out some classic gems that persist despite being able to withstand the truth test. From their newly launched FreeEnterprise.com website:

Produce American Energy and Rebuild Infrastructure. Approve the Keystone XL pipeline to put up to 250,000 Americans to work over the life of the project while preventing the EPA from enacting new regulations on fracking that sabotage a natural gas revolution. Complete Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, which is more than four years delayed, to strengthen our aviation system and deploy the NextGen air traffic control system. Renew surface transportation funding legislation before it expires in March and invest in water infrastructure.

Advance Regulatory and Legal Reform. Pass the Administrative Procedure Act to restore sound science, quality data, and common sense to the regulatory system while curbing regulatory overreach by EPA and the National Labor Relations Board. Stop the expansion of liability at home and abroad that is sucking the vitality out of our nation’s job creators.

Put more bluntly, this is the Chamber's message: Do away with environmental and health protections and let the same companies that brought us the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and countless other “accidents” expand oil drilling, fracking, and other dirty energy extraction methods in every possible place. “Trust us, we're experts,” they say.

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