State energy regulators across the country are having a hard time keeping up with the booming natural gas industry.
The surge is complicated by cash-strapped state budgets and increasing calls for drilling and fracking oversight, and state agencies in several states are struggling to keep up with well inspections, reports Stateline’s Jim Malewitz.
In some states — including Oklahoma — inspectors tasked with new drilling operations also investigate abandoned wells, “many of which often go undocumented and can be hard to find,” Malewitz reports.
Because of the lack of inspectors, scores of wells are going uninspected, Gwel Lachelt of Earthworks — which advocates for increased natural gas regulation — tells Stateline.
Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and West Virginia all have less than one-third as many wells as Oklahoma, and there’s a reason the Sooner State employs a bigger inspection staff:
Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas reserves are bigger than those in most other states. Its inspectors oversee a total of 180,000 oil, gas and injection wells. Last year, the team made more than 52,000 inspections.
It took Oklahoma Corporation Commission inspectors a week to find and plug a single “long-forgotten well that was gushing underwater,” an official tells Stateline.
And enforcement is an easy target for cutting, environmental policy expert Neal Woods tells Stateline.
“There’s a lot of attention paid to the development of initial standards, but the enforcement tends to be kind of behind the curtain.”