Nearly half of Wyoming oil, gas wells uninspected

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Almost half of all newly drilled oil and gas wells considered high pollution risks in Wyoming weren't inspected over a recent three-year period, according to an Associated Press review of federal data.

Nationwide, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials failed to examine about 40 percent of such high-priority wells, showing a department struggling to keep pace with America's drilling boom over the past decade.

The bureau provided the AP with national records giving a snapshot of inspections from fiscal year 2009 to 2012. The agency oversees 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.

Wyoming was among the top states for oil and gas drilling during that span, yet BLM records show that 45 percent of the roughly 1,400 new, high-priority wells on public lands in the state weren't reviewed at the time.

Federal budget cuts are among the reasons more wells weren't inspected in Wyoming, according to BLM staffers in at the agency's state headquarters in Cheyenne.

"The BLM currently lacks the authority to charge industry fees to cover the costs of conducting inspection and enforcement activities," spokeswoman Cindy Wertz said. "This leaves the agency dependent upon yearly appropriations that do not always track with workloads."

The bureau also has struggled to recruit and retain adequate staff to conduct inspections, especially in areas such as western Wyoming that have seen significant oil and gas drilling.

In Wyoming, about 420 uninspected, high-priority wells — two-thirds of the roughly 630 statewide — were in areas covered by the BLM's Buffalo Field Office, which oversees coal-bed methane development in the Powder River Basin. Nearly all of those wells were coal-bed methane gas wells but some were oil wells, the figures show.

About 150 uninspected, high-priority wells — nearly 25 percent of the statewide total — were in areas covered by the BLM's Casper Field Office.

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