State officials mull BLM well oversight

RIFLE — Colorado oil and gas regulators are bemoaning the Bureau of Land Management’s inability to inspect the drilling of many high-risk oil and gas wells, and wondering if there’s a way the state can help out.

DeAnn Craig, a commissioner on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, raised the issue of the inspections at the commission’s meeting in Rifle this week. The Associated Press reported that according to BLM records, the agency was unable to inspect 40 percent of 3,486 new wells that were drilled from fiscal years 2009-12 and are considered to pose a higher pollution risk. Inspections of all new high-priority wells during drilling occurred in six states, while roughly half or more weren’t inspected in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The BLM has primary oversight over wells involving federal leases. Craig wondered if the state agency could lend staffing to help the BLM carry out inspections for high-risk wells.

“I for one as a citizen of Colorado would be grateful for it, because I certainly don’t want there to be a problem if we can avoid it,” she said.

Commission director Matt Lepore agreed that the situation with the federal inspections “is not good.”

“It’s further indication, I think, of the sort of tight staffing situation that the federal agency finds itself in,” he said.

He noted that the commission has an agreement with the BLM under which the state can inspect federal wells.

“But to be candid, we have plenty to do otherwise, and so to some extent we sort of let them lead that process,” he said.

Still, Lepore said he thinks inspections are “an area where we can have fruitful conversation” with the BLM.

The AP story said residents in the New Castle area were concerned about the lack of inspections. That area is within the jurisdiction of the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office. Office spokesman David Boyd said inspectors visit each well pad multiple times, but may only inspect a portion of high-priority wells on any pad during their drilling. Drilling inspections involve things such as the adequacy of blowout preventers and well cementing. But all well pads also undergo surface environmental inspections involving factors such as stormwater and weed control, and wells also undergo production inspections because of royalty considerations.

“I don’t want people to have the impression that there are these locations out there that we’re not visiting,” Boyd said.

Although the BLM says it would like to have more resources to do more inspections, David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, says the agency is wasting millions of dollars to do unnecessary environmental reviews such as ones involving existing oil and gas leases on the White River National Forest and the Roan Plateau. The BLM’s reviews go far beyond what was legally required of the agency, he said.


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As a citizen, I would like to know that high risk wells are being inspected. As an informed citizen, I also know that the COGCC isn’t going to get a lot of new money to pay for increased inspection levels because of state budget constraints. Matt Lepore was being diplomatic when he said that they had plenty to do. He is right they have a lot to do, and not enough inspectors with which to do it.

I’m not surprised that David Ludlam says that environmental reviews are a waste of taxpayer’s money. The industry has been trying to avoid anyone looking too closely at their environmental impacts for a long time. They are their own worst enemy. It is because of their disdain for environmentalists that they have lost the confidence of a lot of Coloradans, especially Moms on the front range who are worried about the development of their children’s lungs while breathing the air on the Front Range, which has been “enhanced” by increased drilling. The people on the Western Slope deserve to have their concerns about air and water quality taken seriously, which is what a judge did in ordering the environmental reviews on the White River National Forest and the Roan Plateau. Evidently the judge thought the BLM reviews did not go far enough to meet what was legally required of the agency. Personally, I’ll trust a judge’s decision about what is legally required over the paid spokesperson of the industry, who is a PR guy, not an attorney.

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