But other experts say people who are trying to understand the benefits and harms from the drilling boom need comprehensive details about complaints, even if some cases are from natural causes.
In Pennsylvania, the raw number of complaints “doesn’t tell you anything,” said Rob Jackson, a Duke University scientist who has studied gas drilling and water contamination issues. Jackson said he doesn’t think providing more details is asking for too much.
“Right or wrong, many people in the public feel like DEP is stonewalling some of these investigations,” Jackson said of the situation in Pennsylvania.
In contrast with the limited information provided by Pennsylvania, Texas officials supplied a detailed 94-page spreadsheet almost immediately, listing all types of oil and gas related complaints over much of the past two years. The Texas data include the date of the complaint, the landowner, the drilling company and a brief summary of the alleged problems. Many complaints involve other issues, such as odors or abandoned equipment.
Scott Anderson, an expert on oil and gas drilling with the Environmental Defense Fund, a national nonprofit based in Austin, notes that Texas regulators started keeping more data on complaints in the 1980s. New legislation in 2011 and 2013 led to more detailed reports and provided funds for a new information technology system, he said.
Anderson agreed that a lack of transparency fuels mistrust.
“If the industry has nothing to hide, then they should be willing to let the facts speaks for themselves,” he said. “The same goes for regulatory agencies.”