WASHINGTON — The federal agency tasked with managing oil and gas development on Wednesday acknowledged it needs to do more to improve oversight of drilling, pointing to a lack of funding as reasons it failed to inspect oil and gas wells it considers potentially high risks for water contamination.
Jeff Krauss, a spokesman with the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, noted that his agency has worked hard to keep up with the nation's energy boom, which has included the increased use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique that environmentalists fear could spread chemicals to water supplies.
He said the BLM is counting on Congress to approve a budget request that would allow it to use $10 million raised from fees charged to oil and gas companies to pay for the high-priority inspections.
An investigation by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm, found that the BLM had failed to conduct inspections on more than 2,100 of the 3,702 wells that it had specified as "high priority" and drilled from 2009 through 2012; the agency also had yet to indicate whether 1,784 other wells were high priority or not. The BLM considers a well "high priority" based on a greater need to protect against possible water contamination and other environmental safety issues.
The audit also said the BLM did not coordinate effectively with state regulators in New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.
This week, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to explain what the department has done and will do to increase well inspections.
He asked her to respond by June 9.
The Interior Department said Wednesday it had received the letter and was reviewing it.