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Last month the Government Accountability Office issued a new report Unconventional Oil and Gas Development: Key environmental and public health requirements.

Created by Congress, the GAO is one of the last bastions of authoritative nonpartisan policy analysis.  Multiple members of Congress requested this report.

Regarding obstacles to enforcement, GAO’s findings – which they drew from interviews with pertinent federal and state agencies – confirm several of Earthworks’ findings in our recent report, Breaking All the Rules: The crisis in oil & gas regulatory enforcement.  Although the GAO report is more federally focused, the findings highlight themes common across state and federal regulatory agencies.  Including:

On lack of information:
“EPA reported that conducting inspection and enforcement activities for oil and gas development from unconventional reservoirs [read: shale gas & oil] is challenging due to limited information.”

“In cases of alleged groundwater contamination, EPA would need to link changes in groundwater quality to oil and gas activities before taking enforcement actions.  However, EPA officials said that often no baseline data exist on the quality of the groundwater prior to oil and gas development.”

On lack of resources impeding inspections:
“The dispersed nature of the industry, the high level of oil and gas development[,] and the cost of travel have made it difficult to conduct enforcement activities[.]”

On lack of resources making it difficult to keep staff:
“Officials at BLM, Forest Service, and state agencies reported challenges hiring and retaining staff. For example, BLM officials […] said recruiting is a challenge because the BLM pay scale is relative low.”

“State oil and gas regulators in two of the six states we reviewed also reported challenges with employees leaving their agencies for higher paying jobs in the private sector.”

GAO specifically mentions at the beginning of the report that this report does not make recommendations as a result of their findings.  Which is unfortunate –- because common sense would lead them to make recommendations similar to those we made based on similar findings.

The whole thing (241 pages, with appendices) is worth reading.  In addition to enforcement, the report surveys the entire federal regulatory regime as it applies to shale gas development, as well as a more limited survey of state oversight. 

If you’re new to the issue of regulation of hydraulic fracturing, you could find worse introductions than this report… although our survey of exemptions to federal law covers some of the highlights in just a few pages.