Energy firms fined for permit violations

Noble Energy and ExxonMobil Oil Corp. received minor fines for local drilling-permit violations in two of eight enforcement actions taken this week by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The actions marked a continuing effort by the agency to reduce a backlog of enforcement cases.

The commission fined Noble $2,500 for starting to drill a Garfield County well without a permit. It penalized ExxonMobil $1,500 for the same violation in Rio Blanco County.

Both incidents were oversights that were reported by the companies, and oil and gas commission Director David Neslin said both were one-time occurrences that resulted in no significant impacts. The companies also have instituted measures aimed at preventing repeat violations.

The ExxonMobil violation occurred in 2008, when it drilled a well after the permit had expired and before a new application had been approved. The company blamed a lack of diligence in tracking valid drilling permits.

Noble told the state its violation, which it reported in 2006, resulted from a change in the name of the well, a software glitch and an error in its drilling schedule.

Noble this week also was fined $20,000 in a case in which drilling mud entered the Cache la Poudre River in Weld County.

The commission also imposed fines against other companies in another Weld County case, and for violations in Las Animas, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

Oil and gas regulators have fallen behind on enforcement actions for reasons such as staffing limitations and a focus on implementing newly rewritten rules related to drilling and production.

“Enforcement matters in many cases are difficult and time-consuming matters to resolve. … They’re forensically difficult and it takes some time to work through them and resolve them,” Neslin said.


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