Box 1: Notes on Ohio violations data
What data are publicly available? DOGRM doesn’t publish oil and gas violations statistics on its website.
Ohio’s Risk Based Data Management System (RBDMS) contains publicly accessible violations data. But it also includes data on wells in addition to oil and gas, including storage, saltwater disposal, and solution mining. This makes public analysis of violation data ambiguous.
For example, violations statistics from RBDMS generated by Earthworks differed from analysis of RBDMS data conducted by an Ohio blog site, Plunderbund. And both the Earthworks and Plunderbund data differed from statistics received from the DOGRM.
DOGRM told Earthworks that it recorded 692 oil and gas violations in 2011. Meanwhile, Plunderbund’s analysis of RBDMS data uncovered 1,625 distinct violations and Earthworks’ analysis of RBDMS data found 1,667 distinct rule violations in 2011.
How did DOGRM derive its statistic? It’s not clear how DOGRM derived its statistic of 692 violations. It’s possible that DOGRM provided Earthworks with the number of oil and gas wells that had violations. Earthworks derived its violations statistic by adding up all rule violations identified by DOGRM at oil and gas well sites.
Given the large opportunity for misunderstanding or misinformation, DOGRM should establish a separate database dedicated to oil and gas violations — one that is searchable, and publicly accessible — as other states have done.
Data on oil and gas related violations are not published on the Ohio Division of Oil & Gas Resources Managmenet (DOGRM) web site, and information that is publicly available is subject to interpretation (See Box 1).
According to DOGRM, oil and gas violations experienced a jump in 2011. DOGRM told Earthworks that oil and gas violations increased from 634 and 615 violations in 2009 and 2010 to 692 in 2011.
Earthworks’ analysis of RBDMS data showed the same increase in violations in 2011 – but we found several hundred more violations and approximately a hundred more wells with violations in 2011 than in the three previous years.
What is perhaps most remarkable is that in 2011 there was a large increase in the number of violations relating to oil and gas industry pollution (view chart). Even though a shale gas and oil drilling boom has not yet occurred in Ohio, in 2011 environmental pollution impacts related to oil and gas activity were at their highest in years. It should be noted that it is highly likely that chart does not include all oil- and gas-related spills, because Ohio operators are not required to report spills to DOGRM. Reporting spills is required in most other oil-and-gas-producing states.
The increase in violations found in 2011 may be due to the fact that inspections also increased in 2011.
Data from RBDMS were used to look at the number of wells with violations compared to the number of wells that were inspected. As seen in this chart, there appears to be a relationship between the two: in other words, when Ohio inspectors go looking, they find violations.
For example, the most wells were inspected in 2004. That was also the year with the most wells with violations. As the number of wells inspected declined (e.g., from 2005 to 2010), fewer wells were found with violations.
It’s time for DOGRM to step up inspection efforts to catch violators and send a message to the oil and gas industry that DOGRM is serious about achieving compliance with oil and gas rules and protecting public health and the environment.