Monday, February 18, 2013

Which company had to pay an EPA fine?

Houston, Texas, is home to Cabot Oil & Gas and to Strategic Minerals, Inc. Both of these companies have a connection to Massachusetts. One of them extracts the fossil fuel that generates about half our state's electricity and, according to this search tool run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was responsible for emitting about 611,000 metric tons of CO2e in 2011. The other operates a glass recycling facility in the town of Franklin, about 40 miles southeast of Boston. Read on if you want to find out which of these two companies had to pay a big fine to the EPA.

The company paying the fine was Strategic Minerals, which runs the Franklin recycling site. A couple of months ago, it agreed to pay a fine of $159,000 for failing to have an adequate stormwater pollution prevention plan and for other stormwater discharge violations. Why was Strategic Minerals obliged to take care of its stormwater discharges? Because it has a duty to comply with the federal Clean Water Act, including Section 402(p) which requires permits for "discharges associated with industrial activities."

Flooding in Pennsylvania, 2011 (AP photo)
Not so Cabot Oil & Gas. Whereas oil-and-gas exploration fall under the Clean Water Act, natural gas production does not. Although subject to regulation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the frack pads that dot the state do not have to comply with the provisions of the Clean Drinking Water Act.

So any stormwater that might flow over any of Cabot's Marcellus Shale fracking sites -- picking up pollutants along the way -- would enter the waterways of Pennsylvania free from EPA meddling. Pennsylvania has experienced devastating floods in recent years, and climate change may increase the intensity of extreme weather events in the state according to this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The source of the statutory exemption is the infamous Energy Act of 2005, which exempted hydraulic fracturing from several important environmental laws. As a result, some industrial activities (glass recycling, for example) require permits under the Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). But not fracking.

If you would like to take action to help Massachusetts make the switch away from fracked natural gas toward clean energy, visit