Fitting fines: Penalties for gas well blowout send a message
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State Environmental Secretary John Hanger has sent a strong message to companies mining in Pennsylvania by issuing stiff fines against the two responsible for a natural gas well blowout in rural Clearfield County last month.
Mr. Hanger fined EOG Resources of Canonsburg $353,000 and C.C. Forbes Co. of Washington, Pa., nearly $47,000 for the June 3 accident that spewed at least 35,000 gallons of chemical-laden fracking fluid into the atmosphere for 16 hours. In addition, he said the companies stand a good chance of losing their licenses to drill in the state if they make the same careless mistakes a second time.
EOG had failed to have proper safety barriers in place during Marcellus Shale drilling and took too long in notifying emergency services of the problem; fortunately no injuries or permanent environmental damage resulted. The companies cooperated with the state's investigation of the accident, and Mr. Hanger said he wanted to give them a second chance because of concerns for the workers whose jobs would be lost if the firms' operations are shut down.
In this case, the state has found the right balance between stewardship over Pennsylvania's air and water quality and the economic reality that drilling for natural gas can mean tax revenue and jobs for residents.
Pennsylvania has a lot more work to do in establishing rules for firms operating in this burgeoning industry, as well as setting tax rates that fairly compensate the state for its impact. In the meantime, the state's action in the Clearfield County case should stand as a warning to other drilling companies that might attempt to drain Pennsylvania of its natural gas deposits without sufficient regard for its other rich resources, particularly its clean water supply.
First Published July 16, 2010 12:00 am