FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Federal officials in charge of overseeing the drilling of new oil wells on public land in California let three years pass without inspecting some high-priority sites, according to public records.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management records say 31 of 99 high-priority wells drilled from fiscal year 2009 to 2012 in the state's oil-rich Central Valley were not inspected during that period, the most recently available records provided by the bureau. Each of the uninspected wells is located in Kern County.
A BLM official in Sacramento disputes the number of uninspected wells, saying that bookkeeping errors have misrepresented the problem.
"The BLM takes its responsibilities seriously and is continuing to improve our internal recording processes and our ability to inspect all high priority drilling operations to ensure they are done safely and responsibly," said spokeswoman Dana Wilson in an email to The Associated Press.
She and state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources spokesman Don Drysdale have said all sites that have gone into production have been inspected since 2012.
Coordination between the federal and state agencies have "helped both the BLM and the state avoid redundancy and ensure compliance," Wilson said.
Wilson had previously said tight budgets prevented her agency from being more thorough, noting that officials can't charge industry fees to perform inspections.
Nationally, the BLM stands by the data provided to the AP that showed a snapshot of three years' worth of inspections. The agency 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. About 40 percent of high-priority wells hadn't been inspected, showing a department struggling to keep pace with America's drilling boom over the past decade.
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