DENVER (AP) — Almost 60 percent of newly drilled oil and gas wells considered high pollution risks on Colorado public lands weren't federally inspected during a recent three-year period, according to an Associated Press data review.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management statistics show that 244 of the 420 high-priority wells went unexamined between fiscal year 2009 and 2012.
Nationwide, about 40 percent of such wells weren't checked, a finding that underscores the government's struggle to keep pace with America's drilling boom.
The BLM oversees about 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands, about 3,500 of which received the high-priority designation because they're located near national forests, fragile watersheds or are otherwise identified as higher pollution risks.
Approximately 160 of the uninspected wells in Colorado — almost two-thirds — are overseen by the BLM's Glenwood Springs field office. The district includes nearly 900 square miles of public land in Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin, Routt, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties, all west of the Continental Divide.
Budget cuts and staff shortages are among the reasons for the backlog, said Vanessa Lacayo, a BLM spokeswoman in Denver.
The agency has trouble recruiting and retaining inspectors because jobs in the oil and gas industry pay better, she said.
Ross Lane, director of the Western Values Project, an oil and gas accountability group, said potential water contamination from oil and gas drilling could affect the multiple and competing demands for water in Colorado, including agriculture, tourism and drinking water.
"There's always risks associated, and we should do our best to mitigate those risks," Lane said. "But there are not enough people paying attention."