Study: Thousands of oil and gas wells not inspected

Unenforced regulations linked to underfunding, understaffing and efforts from groups like ALEC

Published September 28, 2012 7:31PM (EDT)

Regulations at oil and gas wells around the country consistently go unenforced, according to a report released this week by the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

The damning report, "Breaking All the Rules: The Crisis in Oil and Gas Regulatory Enforcement," found that every state studied failed to adequately enforce regulations, with thousands of oil and gas wells uninspected every year. Earthworks highlight understaffing and underfunding as key factors in unenforcement.

The report notes:

The U.S. faces a crisis in the enforcement of rules governing the oil and gas industry. The shale gas and shale oil boom has brought an expansion of oil and gas activity unseen in many parts the country since the 19th century. Unfortunately, as this report shows, states are dangerously unprepared to oversee current levels of extraction, let alone increased drilling activity from the shale boom.

Earthworks argues that, for most major energy companies, the cost penalties over unenforced regulations are factored into budgets as "the cost of doing business" -- serving as little deterrence to improve inspection records.

DeSmog Blog fellow Steve Horn posits a more sinister "design" behind the regulatory failures, pointing to the efforts of right-wing lobby groups like ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which -- with vast financial backing from oil and gas corporations --  have successfully gutted environmental oversight in many oil and gas industry states.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and one of the "Other ALECs," the Council of State Governments (CSG), have moved to gut EPA greenhouse gas emissions regulations for a two-year time window, calling them a "regulatory trainwreck." The model resolution has been introduced in an astounding 34 states, passing in 13, as of June 2011.

ALEC has also proposed and passed a model bill that erodes local democracy in the sphere of zoning rights, which passed in Pennsylvania, almost passed in Texas and failed to pass in Colorado.

Passage of this resolution and model bill in statehouses means the very statehouses covered in the Earthworks report are left on their own to regulate at the well-head level and at the greenhouse gas emissions level.

The cherry on top here is the piece of legislation mandating fracking chemical fluid disclosure at the state level, which also came into existence via an ALEC and CSG model bill written by and for ExxonMobil. It's laden with the very loopholes one would expect from a bill written by Exxon, rendering "disclosure" meaningless. That bill has passed in Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, as well, all states covered in the Earthworks study.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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