BLM chief: Fee system needed to catch up on well inspections
VAIL — Citing a shortage of inspectors, declining budgets and a record number of wells on public lands, Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze highlighted the importance of the BLM’s budget request for a fee system to increase the agency’s oil and gas inspection capacity.
“Over the last few years, the BLM has significantly reduced the time it takes to process drilling permits,” Kornze said in his keynote speech to the 60th annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation in Vail. “Right now, nearly 7,000 permits have been approved but are sitting unused. That’s two years’ worth of drilling permits that are ready to go today. And while permitting efforts have improved, critical inspections are lagging, and we must do better.”
The Associated Press in June reported that four in 10 new oil and gas wells near national forests and fragile watersheds or otherwise identified as of higher pollution concern escape federal inspection.
The report cited government data pointing to the BLM as so overwhelmed by a boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that it has been unable to keep up with inspections of some of the highest priority wells. That’s an agency designation based on a greater need to protect against possible water contamination and other environmental and safety issues.
Kornze told the group of mineral law experts that BLM is focused on a range of inspections, including drilling and production inspections.
“The BLM takes its responsibilities seriously, and we must increase our inspection efforts to help protect communities and the environment and to ensure that taxpayers are getting a fair return on public resources,” Kornze said. “Irregular and declining budgets have hindered our ability to move out aggressively in this area. Through the president’s 2015 budget proposal, we are now seeking to fund inspections through a fee system that will allow us to be much more responsive to the needs of industry and, importantly, to meet the foundational safety and accounting responsibilities of our oil and gas program.”
The BLM is responsible for inspection and enforcement on a record 100,000 wells nationwide, with tens of thousands of new wells coming on line in recent years. At the same time, the budget for the BLM’s oil and gas program has declined 20 percent since 2007 when accounting for inflation.
Congress recently authorized a fee system for offshore oil and gas inspections that are conducted by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
It is estimated that the fee system proposed for BLM would allow the agency to recruit more than 60 new inspectors throughout the country.
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