Either the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is not inspecting 31 of 99 high-priority oil and gas drilling sites on public lands in California as required by law or the agency is diligently inspecting every one of them and just not updating its records.
It all depends on who you listen to.
The Associated Press reported this week that it reviewed three years worth of BLM records covering drilling in Kern County between 2009 and 2012 and found 31 sites that had not been looked at. The sites are important because they are considered at high risk of contaminating water and were included in a larger national study released by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) last month.
That report (pdf) identified 3,702 such drilling sites in 14 states, including California, and concluded that 2,100 of them had not been inspected during the three-year period. The finding was of particular concern because the oil and gas industry in recent years has embraced enhanced technology, like fracking and acidization, which pose a greater threat to groundwater and other water sources than conventional drilling techniques.
BLM spokesperson Dana Wilson cited bookkeeping errors and said the AP got it wrong on the 31 sites because it assumed the agency’s records were up to date. The news agency reported that Wilson and state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources spokesman Don Drysdale said that all 31 have been inspected since 2012, which didn’t explain the alleged three-year lapse.
The BLM is the primary agency responsible for overseeing oil and gas development on more than 14,000 federal and Indian properties. Regular inspections are required by law. In addition to fingering 2,100 uninspected wells, the GAO report found that data identifying wells as low- or high-priority was missing on 1,784, raising the likelihood that even more high-priority wells went uninspected.
Wilson told the AP that coordination between federal and state agencies “helped both the BLM and the state avoid redundancy and ensure compliance,” which contradicted GAO complaints that the bureau relied on “outdated rules and guidelines” and had “limited coordination with states.”
Macpherson Oil Company was listed as the drilling company at 17 of the uninspected California sites, 11 were Berry Petroleum Company, two were Occidental Elk Hills and one was Vintage Production California LLC. Berry Petroleum merged with LINN Energy last year.