The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, a coalition of conservation organizations, wanted to conduct a report on the number of violations which have occurred in the course of Marcellus Shale drilling operations. In order to obtain the necessary information they made a Right To Know Request to the Department of Environmental Protections which is responsible for policing environmental requirements and keeps records of all violations.
The association had only a small staff to devote to the project, so when the DEP offered to send a spread-sheet with a list of all the violations, the association accepted it. The report compiled by the association from this information throws much light on the reality of drilling operations.
However, because it came in spread-sheet form, there was information missing which keeps the report from being comprehensive. Elana Richman, projects coordinator for the association and co-author of the report, said the report does not give a portrait of the size of the spills. "We don't know their severity," she said.
"To figure out the severity of the spills requires cross-referencing the date and type of a violation to an area newspaper which reported on it," she said, "this is hard though because originally a lot of this material wasn't covered in newspapers."
The report also does not say what types of penalties were levied against the offending companies. "Again, we're not sure," said Richman, "there have been some orders to temporarily stop drilling and some operators have voluntarily suspended their operations but we haven't heard of any sites being permanently shut down."
The value of the report lies in the sense of scope it gives to the practice as well as creating categorizations of the different types of violations that have occurred. "Even though we don't know the exact size of some of these spills, we can see that different types of violations, such as Discharge of Industrial Waste, are obviously going to have a detrimental impact," said Richman.
There were 154 violations in the Discharge of Industrial Waste category. A violation falls into this category if involves improperly releasing industrial waste onto the ground; polluting waters of the commonwealt; and drill cuttings, brine and oil discharged into streams.
This is an especially important category because of the toxicity of the chemicals. Of the hydraulic fracturing chemicals analyzed, over 94% can cause skin, eye and respiratory harm, 93% can harm the gastrointestinal system and 83% have brain and nervous system effects. Over 40% can affect the kidneys, over 40% can affect the immune system and over 20% are endocrine disruptors. (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange: "Products and Chemicals Used in Fracturing" February 2009).
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association is comprised of eighty of Pennsylvania's most active conservation organizations. These organizations elect the board and set PALTA's purposes. The organizations in turn count more than 100,000 Pennsylvanians as members and contributors.