According to a Congressional investigation, the federal government has failed to inspect thousands of oil and gas wells it considers potentially high risks for water contamination and other environmental damage,
This is another case of the oil and gas industry getting way out ahead of the ability of federal and state agencies to control it. This time the blame falls on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which, according to the report, continues to have policies on the books based on outdated science and incomplete monitoring data.
The audit also said the BLM did not coordinate effectively with state regulators in New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.
The problem, according to the report, is that the agency “cannot accurately and efficiently identify whether federal and Indian resources are properly protected or that federal and Indian resources are at risk of being extracted without agency approval.”
Part of the problem is limited money and staff, according to the report, which covered 14 states, not including Montana.
States do not monitor wells effectively
In March we posted the results of a report by Earthworks Action that said:
- Every year hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells – 53 to 91% of wells in the states studied (close to 350,000 active wells in the six states, including Pennsylvania) are operating with no inspections to determine whether they are in compliance with state rules.
- When inspections do uncover rule violations, the violations often are not formally recorded – and the decision whether or not to record a violation is often left to the discretion of the individual inspector.
- When violations are recorded, they result in few penalties.
- When penalties are assessed, they are minor. They provide little incentive for companies to stop the offense.
One example given in the report was that in Pennsylvania in 2010, 91% of wells went uninspected. This means, of course, that the disturbing Pennsylvania safety record of Energy Corporation of America, which includes 66 inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, and 55 enforcement actions, with fines totaling over $80,000, is vastly understated. They’re serial polluters, plain and simple.
While Montana isn’t included in the study, it won’t be mush different.The state has a total of only seven field inspectors: three in Sidney, two in Billings, and two in Shelby.
We need to act locally
We make this point over and over with regard to drilling inspection in Stillwater and Carbon Counties, but it needs to be repeated:
- As today’s report shows, the BLM will not do adequate inspections of wells on their land
- Montana doesn’t have adequate resources to do inspections
Therefore, if we value our water and our land, we are going to have to manage oil and gas locally to make sure that our water doesn’t get contaminated, our air fouled, our roads destroyed. The oil and gas industry will not regulate itself, nor will it be controlled by Washington or Helena. If we care about our land we need to protect our rights by acting locally.
A note: I’ve changed the header photo on the blog to reflect the beauty of the Beartooth Front in spring. Thanks to Bob and Lyn Hilten, who take wonderful photographs.
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