No statistics or information on enforcement actions and penalties could be found on the DOGRM website or in its publications, but DOGRM provided information on enforcement actions and penalties to Earthworks in response to a request for this information.
As seen in this chart, Ohio does not take many enforcement actions against oil and gas operators, and the number of enforcement actions has been declining in the past few years. Enforcement actions in Ohio decreased from 55 actions in 2008 to 29 actions in 2011. Put another way, in 2008, one enforcement action was taken for every 23 violations, whereas in 2011 one enforcement action was taken for every 57 violations.
Such a weak show of enforcement in the face of increasing violations sends a message that breaking oil and gas rules in Ohio results in minor or no consequences. As a result, there is not a strong deterrent effect on would-be violators. It is not surprising, then, that the number of violations increased dramatically over this period. According to RBDMS data, almost 400 more violations were found in Ohio in 2011 than in 2008.
While fewer enforcement actions have been taken, there has been a small increase in the total amount of penalties assessed for oil and gas rule violations since 2008. But the amount of fines collected in Ohio remains a pittance. As seen in the table, the average fine in 2011 was approximately $2,500. Prior to 2010 the average penalty was less than $1,000.
In 2005, a review of Ohio’s oil and gas regulations conducted by STRONGER, Inc. found that “The DMRM [now DOGRM] a seeks to resolve most issues without the use of penalties, finding that it improves compliance.” This is not a surprising statement, given the fact that DOGRM is not able to assess penalties large enough to effectively deter operators from violating rules or to provide any incentive to conduct better practices and avoid problems from occurring.
In June 2012, Senate Bill 315 was passed. According to DOGRM, it established “mandatory daily fines for well operators who violate the law.” For most violations the maximum fine is $4,000 per day, although violations related to transporting and injecting brine without a permit have a maximum penalty of $20,000 per day. Pollution of drinking water or endangerment of health and safety only garners a daily penalty of $10,000. the largest civil penalty that can be assessed in Ohio is $20,000.For most oil and gas regulation offenses, the maximum fine is $4,000.
It remains to be seen how often these “mandatory” penalties will be applied, and how these new penalties will affect operator compliance.
Ohio lawmakers must demonstrate that they recognize that the frequency of enforcement actions and the size of fines currently levied against oil and gas operators are simply not enough to deter violations in Ohio.