Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Utah ‘high risk’ oil wells among those left uninspected
Regulation » BLM cites funding, staffing shortages for failure to ensure compliance.


< Previous Page


"It’s an unfortunate necessity we have to strategize in that way due to resource issues," BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall said.

The AP data mirror conclusions reached by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in numerous reviews over the past decade that found oversight is lacking. The slow pace of inspections has coincided with an influx of parcels nominated for oil and gas leases and drilling permit applications from industry, thanks to technological advances that have made more oil and gas deposits accessible.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Utah field offices approved 965 drilling permits last year, a record number, on top of the 848 approved the year before. And the number of producing federal leases is near an all-time high, at 1,473 leases on 1.1 million Utah acres involving 8,459 wells, according to BLM statistics.

Federal lands in Utah have never before seen this level of oil and gas activity, yet industry often complains that BLM is too slow to lease and process drilling applications.

Critics, however, say the BLM should be given the resources it needs to provide adequate oversight before approving more development. Industry, meanwhile, is sitting on nearly 1,800 approved but unused drilling permits in Utah, while the BLM is working through a backlog of 1,500 applications.

Stan Olmstead, a former staffer in the BLM’s Vernal office, said the agency’s approach is "backward."

It believes "permits are most important, leasing is next, compliance third, and reclamation fourth," Olmstead said. "Reclamation should be first. All wells no longer in production should be dealt with. Permitting should be the last thing you do, but it’s where the money is."

It would free up resources if the BLM would require companies to properly retire their old non-producing wells, which still require the attention of inspectors, before awarding them new permits, Olmstead suggested.

He provided The Salt Lake Tribune a list of 355 Utah wells that had been idle for 10 or more years as of 2012, but have yet to be plugged and reclaimed.


story continues below
story continues below

Failing to keep up » A May GAO report said that the BLM has failed to update its inspection procedures to reflect technological advances that have transformed the oil and gas business. The agency also does not coordinate inspections with state regulators in Utah and three other states, the GAO added.

Industry representatives pointed to these findings to argue states are better positioned to oversee wells than the feds.

"They are better resourced and have a greater understanding of the varying geology throughout their region," said Tim Wigley, president of Western Energy Alliance. "Compared to BLM’s outdated rules, states with significant production are effectively addressing risk by updating their rules to provide additional protections and encouraging the use of new technologies."

But Utah officials said their regulatory staffs are too small to help BLM much with its oversight duties.

"To say that we’re going to start inspecting federal wells is just above and beyond what we could do," said John Rogers, associate director of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.

He said companies inspect their own equipment to safeguard their investment, so it’s likely that at least some of Utah’s uninspected wells have been checked by someone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

bmaffly@sltrib.com



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.