Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale using the method known as fracking has been arguably both the greatest economic opportunity for Pennsylvania in recent years and its residents’ biggest concern.
The Post-Gazette believes drilling can bring great benefits if it is properly regulated to protect the environment. To establish public trust in this process, the Corbett administration must inspect drill sites competently and disseminate the information efficiently. That challenge is being met only partly.
While inspectors appear to be doing the best they can, despite claims that there are not enough of them, the information the state keeps on companies is incomplete and inaccurate, as the Post-Gazette’s Sean Hamill reported in a series of stories.
His time-consuming investigation, which included filing requests for data under the state’s Right to Know law, went beyond the scope of most citizens’ ability to seek useful information on spills and driller performance. Unfortunately, the information assembled by the state is too flawed to be useful to anyone.
As our reporter wrote last Sunday, the Department of Environmental Protection acknowledges that its online Compliance Report — the public’s portal to drilling operations — is error-ridden. In fact, it is impossible to get an accurate picture of how drilling is being regulated.
The Post-Gazette compared paper records for every Marcellus Shale well incident involving a fine with those online in the Compliance Report. Of 568 such incidents, only 380 were listed online and in 48 of them at least one violation was obscured because a generic code was used, in 44 cases an incorrect code was used and in 102 cases at least one violation was completely dropped. In all, 256 violations were dropped.
One of the problems is that the online system doesn’t have all the codes that are recorded on paper. DEP is working to fix the system, but Pennsylvania is in the sixth year of the Marcellus Shale boom and still transparency is a foggy cloud.
This shambles of a system is an embarrassment. No wonder people are suspicious of fracking and its regulation.