February 27, 2014 | 2:00 AM
By Laura Legere
The 2013 total was the third highest in the three decades of oil and gas penalties the Department of Environmental Protection tracks in its public compliance report. Oil and gas companies were fined higher amounts only in 2010 ($2.7 million) and 2011 ($2.6 million), according to the database. (Tallying the fines in a different way through its fiscal report, DEP said the 2013 total was actually tied with 2011.)
Unlike recent years when high-profile spills, fires or methane migration cases attracted attention and hefty penalties, 2013 saw smaller but significant fines issued without fanfare to companies for violations that accumulated over years. Six of the 20 largest fines ever levied by DEP’s oil and gas program were handed out last year, but only one was among the ten largest.
Many violations are years old and have been resolved by the time regulators decide on a penalty, which can encompass dozens of problems at separate sites. Most fines receive little or no public attention when they are settled. DEP issued press releases announcing three of 135 fines in the oil and gas compliance report last year, according to its archive, and one press release described two of the fines.
DEP spokesman Eric Shirk said the agency can combine multiple violations by a company into one penalty assessment rather than issuing separate fines. The department calculates penalties based on several factors, including which laws or permit limits were broken, how severe the violations were and whether the acts were intentional. He said the agency issues press releases “as deemed necessary,” for example, when an incident has received media attention or when a violation is caused by reckless behavior or has a significant environmental impact.
“If a particular incident garnered media interest, we will do a press release on the enforcement action of that incident,” he said. “If members of the media have followed a particular matter and the department has provided all the relevant information based on these inquiries so that the matter is already conveyed to the public, it may not be necessary to issue a press release.” Read more...http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2014/02/27/dep-fined-oil-and-gas-companies-2-5-million-last-year/