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Industry still failing at transparency

Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report identifying the top 10 oil and gas companies based on spills and legal violations from operations. Moreover, in their endeavor the NRDC along with the Frac Tracker Alliance found that only three out the 36 states with active oil and gas operations make information about companies’ spills and legal violations readily available to the public, thus bringing the issue of industry transparency into the spotlight.

“People deserve to know what’s happening in their own backyards, but too often homeowners aren’t even informed if there’s a threat to their health,” said Amy Mall, report co-author and senior policy analyst at NRDC in a press release. “Our representatives have a responsibility to protect the people who elect them, not help keep a dangerous industry shrouded in secrecy. States are falling down on their responsibility to be a watchdog for the people who live there.”

The groups discovered that only Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia post accessible public data about companies’ violations. According to their report, even the information that is provided often incomplete, misleading, and/or difficult to interpret. Incidents include a wide range of violations such as spills, drinking water contamination, air pollution, improper construction or maintenance of waste pits, failure to conduct safety tests, improper well casing, and nonworking blowout preventers.

“The limited information that is actually available is eye-opening, both in terms of frequency and the sometimes shocking nature of the impacts when things go wrong,” said Matt Kelso, FracTracker’s Manager of Data and Technology. “This industry is already immense and rapidly growing. It develops in residential communities, sensitive ecological areas, and everywhere in between. Our research shows the need for increased transparency about the compliance record of the industry, especially given those vulnerable areas and populations.”

The study was limited to 68 major oil and natural gas producers based on the amount of acreage they had leased nationwide and was solely based on the public data available. The list is ordered from most infractions to the least.

  1. Chesapeake Energy (669)
  2. Cabot Oil and Gas (565)
  3. Talisman Energy (362))
  4. Range Resources (281)
  5. EXCO Resources (249)
  6. ExxonMobil (246)
  7. EQT Corporation (245)
  8. Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (235)
  9. Shell (223)
  10. Penn Virginia Corporation (186)

While the study produced by the NRDC is highly limited, the issue on industry transparency is still an unsolved issue. Last December, a coalition of leading investment advisory firms and advocacy organizations known as the Sustainable Investing Coalition issued a report scoring 30 major oil and gas companies operating across the United States on their disclosure transparency around the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing operations. What they found was that the majority of oil and gas companies continue to receive failing scores even after a year of improvement from previous scoring.

Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management, noticed that many companies relied too heavily on aired statements’ empty assurances that fracking is safe while failing to include substantial data to back the claims. “Public controversy about fracking will continue unless companies can prove that they are actively working to reduce toxic chemical use, water consumption, methane leakage, and the other negative impacts of fracking that damage the environment and local communities.” Reusner stated.

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