The Conservation Beat
4:33 pm
Mon May 7, 2012

100 Inspectors Responsible for 100,000 Oil and Gas Wells

The number of oil and gas wells in New Mexico is on the rise due to higher demand for domestic production, but the number of federal inspectors qualified to watch over them remains at less than 100.  

According to a report in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Bureau of Land Management and the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division oversee about 100,000 wells, each of which is inspected an average of once every three years.

While the agencies say the inspectors are doing their jobs well, some New Mexicans are worried that there aren't enough of them to ensure the facilities won't harm the state's water and land, and damage the health of its citizens.

Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance said the public needs to keep pushing for better oversight of inspectors and industry, because "the message from the agencies is, 'We're doing a great job. Trust us.' "

But Wally Drangmeister, Director of Communications at the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association insists the current level of oversight is safe, because about half of the state's wells are plugged.

"The amount of resources required to do an inspection on a plugged well is negligible," he says. "There's not a whole lot that can go wrong.  So...50,000 is really the number of active wells, and that's where the number of resources are predominantly needed in the inspection arena."