Oil Companies: Under No Obligation to Report Exploratory Pollution

By  |  10 / September / 2010

This post is also available in: Spanish

We know that over 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of oil were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of exploration by British Petroleum, but we’ll only see the full impact of the spill in the years to come.

This is what Lisa P. Jackson, administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explained to journalists during the Seventeenth Regular Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), held on 16-17 August 2010, in Guanajuato, Mexico.

“We’re ready to learn”, Jackson said, only days after the cement seal was placed over the leaking well.

Stopping the leak has given rise to another challenge: determining, in addition to the number of liters spilt, the total amount of the contaminant emissions generated by the petroleum industry. According to the manager of the Air Quality and Registration of Emissions and Contaminant Transfer (PRTR), Orlando Cabrera, in the United States and Canada oil companies aren’t required to report on exploratory processes.

When interviewed about this issue for the Americas Program, Cabrera explained that oil companies aren’t held accountable for their records.

Will the PRTR include the BP oil spill?

The reporting requirements vary from one country to the next and, when it comes to the industrial sectors in the United States, the oil extraction sector is exempt from releasing information, especially if that information pertains to an exploratory operation, as is the case with BP. The government should know how much was spilled, but this information isn’t included in the records. As to emissions as a result of processes and accidental emissions, but both of these are covered in the records.

Are Mexico or Canada required to report spills?

I asked a Canadian official that question, and, in his country, if the spill occurs accidentally during an operating process, it is reported. However, if it occurs as a result of exploration, it isn’t. In Mexico, if it’s an accident, it’s reported.

Does that benefit companies?

In that sense, it’s something that each country has to improve. Last year we used data from 2005 to run a special analysis of the petroleum industry in North America and we compared what was reported with what wasn’t. In Canada, petroleum extraction has to be reported. Mexico does this too, but the United States doesn’t. However, when you see the records, you realize that companies are not reporting very much, which means that the contaminating emissions reports are falling short on compliance.

Does that mean that companies are giving discretionary information or that they aren’t under the obligation to give information?

Well, they are under an obligation, it’s required by law.

But they give very little information?

Good question!

How can the lack of information be detected?

By comparison, you see a certain standard quantity from a process in a refinery’s records. Then you see information in a similar source indicating that nothing was emitted, so what’s happening there? The reports show that it’s a magnificent, clean process, so what’s really going on?

Marco Antonio Martínez García is a Mexican journalist. He contributes to the Americas Program at www.americas.org.

Translated by: Jenny Marie Forsythe.

This post is also available in Spanish.

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