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Pennsylvania shale gas producers received hundreds of environmental citations in 4 years, PennEnvironment says

| Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, 11:24 p.m.

Hundreds of environmental citations issued to shale gas producers over a nearly four-year period provide evidence that Pennsylvania should halt well development and tighten regulations, an anti-drilling group said Tuesday.

But gas drillers and their trade association dismissed the report's veracity, saying the group used flawed methodology by including administrative citations in its list of environmental and health violations.

Philadelphia-based PennEnvironment tallied violations by each producer between January 2011 and August 2014. The group's report did not provide any year-by-year data, and did not describe the severity of violations, or how they were resolved.

“When it comes to fracking, there are just no good apples,” Lina Blount, a program associate at PennEnvironment, said in announcing the group's analysis of violation records held by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Its list of companies with the most violations closely mirrors the top drillers in the state and was led by Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., the state's second largest shale gas producer, with 265 violations.

Cabot could not determine which violations the group counted, but the company had fewer violations last year despite an increase in drilling activity and DEP inspections, spokesman George Stark said.

“By working closely with our regulators, we are seeing a steady decrease in the number of violations. From 2011 to 2014, we have managed to decrease our violations by 67 percent, 85 to 28,” Stark said. “We believe this significant decrease is due to our commitment to safe, environmentally friendly operations.”

The group calculated violations on a per-well basis. The top 10 companies on that list included five major producers with more than 10 shale wells: Houston-based Carrizo Oil & Gas, Fort Worth-based XTO Energy, Cecil-based Rice Energy, Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas and Cabot.

“Most of the violations were administrative and in no way posed any harm to human health,” XTO spokeswoman Suann Guthrie said. “The report uses flawed methodology to reach inaccurate conclusions.”

Carrizo, Rice and Chief did not respond to requests for comment.

“Pennsylvania has a world-class regulatory framework and enforcement programs that are enabling the safe development of clean-burning natural gas,” the South Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition said in a statement. “It's unfortunate that some fringe groups, who cannot accept these clear facts, have once again manipulated data in an attempt to advance an out-of-the-mainstream agenda.”

XTO and the shale coalition pointed out that PennEnvironment stated in its report it “discarded” the state's classification of violations as administrative versus environmental health citations. The report's list of violations it counted against companies included not posting certain plans on site, drilling with an expired permit and determinations that plans were “inadequate.”

“The basic problem is that there is no clear consistency with how the ... DEP makes these designations,” said report author Jeff Inglis, a policy analyst with the Santa Barbara-based Frontier Group.

A DEP spokesman deferred comment to Gov. Tom Wolf's office. Wolf, who took office this month, has rejected calls to ban shale drilling and fracking.

“As he has made clear, Governor Wolf will work to make sure state agencies tasked with environmental protection have adequate resources and staffing to provide strong oversight of gas drilling and those companies that violate rules are held accountable,” said J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for the governor.

PennEnvironment said the Pittsburgh-based Colcom Foundation paid for the report. Other Pittsburgh charities that fund the group include the Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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