Open up most papers this week and you will find a rather startling headline. In all of its forms, it reads along the lines of: natural gas developers cited for 3,355 violations in four years. Unfortunately, that is where the story ends in most media accounts. It’s far from the worst reporting we’ve seen, but it certainly lacks context. Here we provide that context so folks who live in the heart of the Marcellus Shale can understand exactly what is happening. It’s nothing like the simplistic story told by the report.
Penn Environment authored the report. It seems it was prepared to generate just the splash it received. With that, let’s take a closer look at the numbers. 3,355 violations breaks down, on average, to about 835 per year. Stopping here would still leave half the story untold. To gain full understanding it’s important to understand the number of Marcellus wells developed over the same period. That number, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, is approximately 4,671 (slightly higher than the 4,596 PennEnvironment reports). Dividing the violations by the number of wells results in a total of 0.72 violations per well. Let me repeat that, we get a total of 0.72 violations per well! Interestingly, PennEnvironment left that part out. The below graphic provides a good understanding of how it all stacks up:
More importantly, these violations have been decreasing while natural gas development in the Commonwealth has spiked. For example, the number of wells developed last year increased by 426, while the number of violations decreased by 95. Peeling back another layer, the number of enforcement actions (or significant violations that result in additional action) dropped by a staggering 140. This trend, combined with the recently announced regulatory compliance tool from IPAA, not to mention FracFocus, clearly highlights the industry-wide commitment to responsible operation and environmental success. In fact, of these 3,355 violations only 925 have warranted enforcement action. This lends quite a different story than what PennEnvironment put out for public consumption. This is important information to know when discussing something that is shaping Pennsylvania’s economy, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs, and increasing our energy independence.
Instead of including this needed perspective most reporters bit hook line and sinker at the bait provided by Penn Environment. The same group that floated a picture of a flooded natural gas rig in Pakistan claiming it was located in Pennsylvania. Remember? Like that picture, this report lacks context. Although context, and at times truthfulness, is something PennEnvironment lacks when commenting on natural gas development in the Commonwealth.