Citizen complaints can be an important barometer of industry behavior, and citizens can provide a crucial early warning of problems at oil and gas sites. In Texas, the oil and gas regulatory agency has stated that “Citizens are viewed as extra eyes to help the RRC [Railroad Commission] identify problems..” In 2009, the RRC received 681 complaints related to oil and gas and found 1,997 violations based on these complaints. In Pennsylvania, complaints led to the discovery of at least 700 violations between 2007 and 2011.
The Texas Railroad Commission publishes quarterly statistics on complaints. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) publishes complaints statistics in its staff reports, and COGCC’s online database enables users to view the 5,000 most recent complaints.
Ohio DOGRM does not publish statistics on citizen complaints relating to oil and gas development. It was only through an information request to DOGRM that Earthworks was able to obtain Ohio citizen complaint data.
Ohio citizen complaints
In Ohio, citizen complaints related to oil and gas operations rose dramatically in 2011. In the years 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 DOGRM received 140, 176, 146 and 411 complaints, respectively.
The DOGRM website states that the division responds to questions or complaints within 24 hours either by telephone or in person. But DOGRM does not have a publicly accessible database of complaints, so it is impossible to track the nature of the various complaints, or whether the complaints were resolved in a timely manner and to the satisfaction of those filing them.
Since Ohio does not provide detailed information regarding citizen complaints, it is not clear why complaints more than doubled from 2010 to 2011. Information on citizen complaints—such as information on facilities of concern, nature of the complaint, DOGRM follow-up, and complaint resolution—should be made publicly accessible.
To increase the public’s role in oil and gas enforcement, DOGRM must work cooperatively with citizens and dedicate sufficient resources to track and respond effectively to citizen complaints.