Not enough inspectors for high-risk oil and gas wells

September 18, 2015

BLM, Colorado, oil and gas drilling

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speaks to reporters during a Monitor-hosted breakfast on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. [Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor]

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speaks to reporters during a Monitor-hosted breakfast on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. [Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor]

Hey kids! Here’s a story you won’t read in any western Colorado newspaper.

Greeley Tribune: Interior Dept.: High-risk oil, gas well checks lack funding [emphasis added]

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management lacks sufficient resources to inspect high-risk oil and gas wells on federal land as a drilling boom continues in Wyoming, Colorado and other states, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday.

The Obama administration has proposed a fee on oil and gas drillers that would allow the land management agency to hire more than 60 inspectors, but the proposal has not gained traction in Congress.

The land bureau faces a “major backlog of inspections” as it tries to keep pace with a drilling boom that has sharply increased U.S. oil and gas production in recent years, Jewell said.

“We do not have the resources necessary to do the job,” Jewell said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

The Associated Press reported last year that 40 percent of new wells on federal and Indian land with a higher pollution risk were not inspected from 2009 to 2012.

Asked if the situation had improved since then, Jewell said no, adding: “We are under-resourced.”

While the proposed fee has stalled in Congress, Jewell said it remains the agency’s best option to whittle its inspections backlog.

“It makes no sense not to match supply and demand,” she said, adding that if the drilling boom slows or fizzles, the need to charge a fee would go away.

Jewell also lamented a practice in which energy companies “flare” or burn off vast supplies of natural gas as they drill for oil. A report by the Government Accountability Office said 40 percent of the gas being burned or vented could be captured economically and sold.

The bureau has not completed new guidelines on flaring, but Jewell said a proposed rule could be released for public comment later this year. But even without new federal rules, Jewell urged energy companies to rethink their practice of flaring natural gas in the pursuit of higher-priced oil.

“It’s crazy to vent natural gas into the atmosphere when natural gas is a fuel that can produce electricity at a much lower carbon footprint than other (energy) sources like coal,” Jewell said.

On a related topic, Jewell said she is confident that new rules for oil and gas drilling on federal lands nationwide will be upheld, despite a court challenge by four states and two industry groups. The Bureau of Land Management has delayed implementing the rules until a federal judge in Wyoming rules on the case.

Jewell said the rules “are based on common sense and science,” although she acknowledged some changes may be required.

The rules, announced in March, would require oil and gas developers to report the chemicals they pump underground during hydraulic fracturing. The drilling procedure, also known as fracking, involves pumping huge volumes of water mixed with fine sand and chemicals underground to crack open deposits and boost flows of oil and gas.

The federal rules also would require pressure testing of newly installed wells …

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Here’s the full story at the Christian Monitor:

Secretary Jewell: US fracking inspectors are ‘under-resourced’

Speaking to reporters during a Monitor-hosted breakfast on Tuesday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell painted a picture of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as an agency that is underfunded and overextended.

America’s oil and gas boom is outpacing the US government’s ability to inspect the wells responsible for the country’s newfound energy abundance.

Speaking to a group of reporters during a Monitor-hosted breakfast on Tuesday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell painted a picture of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as an agency that is underfunded and overextended …

… Four out of ten of the country’s high-risk oil and gas wells have not been inspected by the federal government, according to AP, while around half or more of the wells on federal and tribal lands were uninspected in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.The findings have been cause for concern among populations living close to gas and oil wells, many of whom worry toxins from hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, could be leaking into their drinking water …

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In other news —

Feds in Colorado launch huge oil and gas worker safety study

An unprecedented study of the hazards rooted in America’s largest oil patches will be launched next year by federal health officials in Colorado who hope to cut the dangers faced by oil and gas workers.

Scientists from the Denver office of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health — which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — will distribute questionnaires to 500 oil field workers in North Dakota, Texas and another unnamed state …

What?! Only three states? And not Colorado!
That’s not a study. That’s a selection.

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