EPA regulators are having trouble keeping up with the rapid expansion of shale oil and gas development. According to a report from non-partisan investigative committee, the Government Accountability Office, regulators are handicapped in their oversight by a lack of data and a number of legal loopholes.
According to the report, which was issued Tuesday, EPA officials reported that "conducting inspection and enforcement activities for oil and gas development from unconventional reservoirs is challenging due to limited information, as well as the dispersed nature of the industry and the rapid pace of development."
This surge in development can be attributed to recent breakthroughs in drilling technology— namely horizontal drilling techniques and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—which have opened up massive oil and gas reserves previously trapped in shale formations.
According to Reuters, the GAO report was requested by Democrats in the Legislature who have raised concerns about the health and environmental dangers of fracking. Critics have long called attention to these hazards, as well as to the inadequate oversight and abuse of disclosure loopholes of the shale production industry.
Reuters revealed some other details from the report:
The GAO found that the EPA has difficulty investigating water contamination cases because there is often no information on the quality of water before drilling began to use for analysis.
In the GAO's report on challenges regulating shale production, the EPA said it does not always know where to conduct inspections or enforce certain regulations because it sometimes does not have information on what activities are going on at well sites.
In some cases, the EPA must completely rely on companies to identify themselves as subject to regulations.
The Hill reports that, despite these findings, many new bills to aid in the government's regulation of this industry, "including measures to end fracking's exemption from the Safe Water Drinking Act requirements, have not advanced."
According to a second GAO report on shale resources, oil production from shale formations grew from about 39 million barrels in 2007 to roughly 217 million barrels in 2011. In that time, shale natural gas went from 6 percent of U.S. supply to 25 percent and is projected to account for half of the nation's gas by 2035.