Drilling Dysfunction: How the Failure to Oversee Drilling on Public Lands Endangers Health and the Environment

Drilling Dysfunction: How the Failure to Oversee Drilling on Public Lands Endangers Health and the Environment

Finds Erratic, Inadequate Federal Enforcement, Fines Related to Oil and Gas Drilling Violations; Interior Secretary Urged to Reform Safety and Enforcement

The report finds that from 1998 to 2011, more than two thousand violations were handed out by the U.S. Department of Interior to oil and gas companies drilling on taxpayer-owned lands. Some were issued to companies for not installing the now-infamous blowout preventer. Some were for poorly protecting the walls of the well from potentially leaking gas, oil or fluids. In dozens of cases, oil and gas companies even started to drill on federal lands before their permit was fully approved.

The report found that the total amount of fines issued for these years of violations to more than 300 companies in 17 states that put the health of workers, drinking water and taxpayer land at risk was only $273,875 -- a tiny amount in relationship to the huge profits oil and gas companies make from drilling on public lands.

Major findings of the report include:

·         There were a total of 2,025 safety and drilling violations that were issued to 335 companies drilling in seventeen states between February 1998 and February 2011, 549 of which were classified as "major" by committee staff.

·         DOI issues fines in an inconsistent manner, sometimes issuing monetary penalties to one company for a violation, and then does not do so with a second company for an identical violation.

·         In fifty-four instances, operators were given written citations because they began drilling on federal lands before the permit to drill was fully processed and approved.

·         Of the major violations, 53 percent (293 of 549 violations) were related to non-functional blowout preventers.

·         Twenty-one percent (113 of 549) major environmental or safety violations were issued because of deficiencies in casing and cementing programs. Appropriate casing and cementing is the first line of defense in protecting underground sources of drinking water.

·         Only 125 (six percent) of all the violations were levied a monetary fine. Although the violations that occurred were spread across 17 states, violators in eight states (AK, AR, LA, ND, NV, OH, SD, and WV) were never issued a monetary fine of any amount during the entire period examined.

Letters and other documents pertaining to the Report >>

Data table with violations listed state-by-state

February 28,2011 letter to DOI

o    June 3, 2011 response from DOI

o    August 25, 2011 response from DOI and additional documents 

o    November 17, 2011 response from DOI


Rep. Markey's letter to Secretary Salazar.