BLM improves gas, oil inspections; still behind in active wells

The Bureau of Land Management has improved its oil and gas inspection and enforcement program, but it remains inadequate, according to a report released Thursday.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils report updates a 2004 study reviewing state and federal oil and gas inspection and enforcement programs in Colorado,

Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming. The update focuses solely on BLM programs in six field offices in those states, including the Grand Junction office.

The group found that after a relatively stable period, environmental inspections nationwide increased 86 percent in the 2007 fiscal year over the previous year. Inspections by the Grand Junction office rose from 67 to 362.

Nevertheless, the six field offices conducted just 15 percent of the required high-priority environmental inspections in fiscal year 2007, the group said. The number of these inspections more than doubled since the 1999 fiscal year.

The group said high-priority sites require annual inspections because of special environmental, reclamation or other concerns.

It said the Grand Junction Field Office conducted just 18 of 313 required high-priority inspections in the 2007 fiscal year.

The group said the number of written orders, which reflect problems identified during inspections, was nearly four times higher nationwide in the 2007 fiscal year compared to the 1999 fiscal year.

The time spent on environmental inspections still has barely kept pace with the increase in active wells, the report said.

Colorado BLM spokesman Steven Hall said the agency’s Colorado oil and gas inspections increased 220 percent since 2005.

In the Glenwood Springs Field Office, the state’s busiest for oil and gas development, inspections more than quadrupled. Over the same time period, drilling permit applications on federal lands statewide increased 11 percent, Hall said.

“What I think the numbers indicate pretty clearly is BLM Colorado has invested in additional staff and shifted resources to make sure we’re doing our inspections and enforcement work with the increased oil and gas development in Colorado,” he said.

The BLM opened a Glenwood Springs Energy Office as a result of the 2005 energy bill.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils’ members include the Western Colorado Congress. In a teleconference Thursday, Western Colorado Congress member Peggy Utesch said the BLM’s inspection and enforcement program remains “abysmal.”

Bob LaResche, who with his wife owns a farm in Wyoming, said environmental abuses can range from weeds to unauthorized surface disturbances to failure to restore
disturbed areas.

“What they constitute is wholesale devaluation of millions of acres of America’s public lands,” he said.


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