In May, the Government Accountability Office estimated that an even larger share of new wells on federal land—57 percent—were not inspected. While the revised 40 percent figure, which was first reported by the Associated Press, is lower, it's "still not a very good number," acknowledged BLM spokesperson Bev Winston.
Between 2009 and 2012, the BLM tagged 3,486 new oil and gas wells as "high-priority," meaning they are deserving of special scrutiny because of their proximity to ecologically sensitive areas like watersheds and forests, or because they tap into geologically volatile formations that increase the likelihood of an explosion or toxic gas leak. The data includes both conventional and unconventional wells and does not indicate how many of the wells were hydraulically fractured, or fracked.
"We're scattered, and you can't be everywhere at once," a top BLM official said.
According to the GAO report, the agency's own rules call for all high-priority wells on federal and Native American land to be inspected during the drilling stage. That's the only time when key facets of a well's construction—whether the well casing is properly sealed, or whether a blowout preventer is correctly installed, for example—can be adequately inspected. Once the well is drilled, retroactive inspection becomes difficult or impossible, according to a BLM engineer.
Because the window for drilling inspections at any given well opens and...
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