Law and Order in the Oil and Gas Fields 2013

The 2013 update of Law and Order in the Oil and Gas Fields analyzes state inspection of oil operations data from five oil-producing states—Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming. The report called attention to the need for state and the federal governments to fund more oil and gas inspectors and increase penalties for violating public health, safety and environmental laws.

Report Findings

The findings include:

  • Growth in the number of oil and gas wells continues to outpace increases in the number of state inspectors. In Colorado, each inspector is responsible for more than 5,000 active oil and gas wells.
  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and four of the five state agencies studied do not have enough inspectors to inspect each active well at least once a year. Wells are inspected once every 2.6 years on average in Montana, once every 3.9 years in Colorado, and once every 4.8 years by BLM.
  • The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission does not track the number of inspections conducted.
  • All agencies take very few enforcement actions, and fines and penalties are infrequent and trivial. BLM collected less than $150 per violation on average.

Recommendations

The report recommendations include:

  • BLM and all state agencies should adopt inspection goals that ensure all wells are inspected at least once a year, all complaints are promptly investigated, and high-risk operations, operators and sites are inspected more frequently.
  • BLM and all state agencies should have the authority to implement an annual inspection fee to fund the number of inspectors needed to fulfill these inspection goals, including the ability to pay the salary range needed to attract and retain professionals.
  • BLM and all states should review and update their fine and penalty structures to ensure fines and penalties are sufficient to deter future violations.
  • Where agencies do not have the clear authority to implement these recommendations, legislators, including Congress, should take prompt action to grant clear authority.
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