CA Oil Well Oversight ‘Inconsistent’

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 @ 04:10 PM gHale

California’s oil regulatory agency admits it allowed serious lapses in its monitoring of oil operations in the Los Angeles Basin.

There was “inconsistent permitting, monitoring and enforcement of well construction and operation” in the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources’ Cypress office, according to an internal report issued Thursday.

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The internal audit concluded:
• Since 2007, most oil projects in the L.A. area have not been subject to a required annual review.
• Seventy-eight percent of the projects in the audit did not undergo a required Area of Review, a comprehensive geologic and technical analysis of the oil field involved. Only five projects had undergone such an analysis in the last five years.
• Testing and methods to ensure that fluids injected into the ground don’t contaminate aquifers or drinking water sources are inadequate and need an update.
• Well records were often incomplete or missing. At least 47 percent of the files did not contain information about well casing that is vital to understanding the integrity of wells.
• To complete reports, regulators relied on self-reported information from operators rather than on information the agency could independently verify.

Steve Bohlen, state oil and gas supervisor, acknowledged the report uncovered “systemic problems” but added that reforms he has instituted are proof the agency is trying to tighten its enforcement.

The Los Angeles area is home to the nation’s largest urban oil field, with pump jacks and other industrial operations in residential neighborhoods, near schools and across from hospitals and retirement homes.

The California Council on Science and Technology in July warned of the risks posed by fracking and other oil operations in the state. Scientists expressed concerns about the density of oil wells and their proximity to humans in the Los Angeles Basin.

The document included charts showing great fluctuation from year to year in violations and enforcement actions. For example, state inspectors identified 323 unauthorized injections in 2012, but only 12 in 2013 and 17 the year after.

Bohlen explained the wide variances as changes in regulatory emphasis from year to year.

The state agency also must report on its Underground Injection Control program, which regulates more than 55,000 wells used to produce oil or inject oil field waste.

State officials are under fire from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for allowing companies to inject oil field waste and other fluids into aquifers protected under federal law. More than 2,500 illegal injection wells ended up identified around the state, although Bohlen said there were none in Los Angeles County.