Firms drilling for natural gas have a wide range of practices and products they can use to limit environmental damage, yet they use them sporadically at best due to mixed and weak state laws, says a report from ProPublica:
Interviews with state officials and industry executives in states across the country show the industry tends to use these environmental safeguards only when political, regulatory, cost or social pressures force it to do so.
When states have tried to toughen regulations aimed at protecting the environment or institutionalizing these practices, energy companies have fought hard to defend the status quo. They argue that current laws are sufficient, that mandating practices imposes specific solutions on regions where they may not work best, and that the cost of complying with additional laws and safeguards would bankrupt them.
“Sometimes environmental considerations aren’t the same as the public considerations, and many times the economic considerations don’t fit,” said David Burnett, an associate research scientist at Texas A&M University’s Global Petroleum Research Institute and a founder of Environmentally Friendly Drilling, a government and industry-funded program that identifies best practices and encourages their use. “There could be better management practices used. We have to find a balance.”
This conclusion’s not a huge surprise, as it’s the rare industry that chooses to put more burdens on itself. As I noted in a piece about concerns over fracturing last week, the American Petroleum Institute is trying to develop “best practices” in the hopes there will be fewer acts of carelessness or wrecklessness that give the whole industry a black eye. But if these voluntary, self-policing methods don’t cut down on the number of incidents there’s little doubt the pressure for tougher mandatory rules will build.
Incidentally, following the piece last week I heard from a number of firms touting their “green” fracturing technologies, so I hope to share some of them in the block soon.