Federal inspections of new oil wells are lagging behind construction, with 4 in 10 high risk wells escaping proper operational and construction safety examinations. According to the Associated Press, the agency in charge of oil and gas well inspection is struggling to keep up with the drilling boom.
"No one would have predicted the incredible boom of drilling on federal lands, and the number of wells we've been asked to process," the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Deputy Director, Linda Lance, told the news source. "The current rate of inspections is simply not acceptable to us."
The BLM oversees nearly 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands, 3,486 are considered high risk. Many of these wells are drilled on federal lands, near national forests or fragile watershed areas. One issue is the new method that many oilfields are using to drill – fracking. According to the news source, the fracking helps speed oil well drilling significantly, making it difficult for the BLM to keep up with inspections. It also may increase the risk of contaminants entering soil and watertables. Since 2009, 90 percent of all new oil and gas wells are drilled using fracking methods.
While the BLM seeks to hire on additional inspectors to take some of the pressure off of itself, oilfield construction and operations need to consider their own safety processes. Investing in additional safety management services can help reduce onsite risks and general problems, as well as the number of complaints lobbied against new wells. Residents in areas near many of the new wells are genuinely concerned over the risks of water contamination and their general quality of life.
"Once we start puncturing the water table, that could cause problems, whether you're drilling for gas, oil, water, whatever," said Kory Kipferl, a land owner adjacent to an area in Colorado with active wells.