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Audit: Utah oil, gas division lacks environmental oversight

November 20, 2019 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s oil and gas division has not carried out state-mandated oversight allowing more than 100 noncompliance cases to go unresolved and is not forcing cleanup of environmental contamination at waste disposal sites, a legislative audit found.

The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining failed to prioritize inspections or keep records according to agency policy, according to the audit released Tuesday and presented to members of the Legislative Audit Subcommittee.

“With the risk of long-term impacts to health, safety and the environment, it is alarming that the oil and gas program has not more diligently fulfilled its regulatory responsibilities,” inspectors said.

The division, which falls under the Department of Natural Resources, is tasked with maintaining regulatory oversight of 193 oil and gas operators at over 16,000 active wells and 29 waste disposal facilities, officials said.

However, the division could not document a single fine ever levied on an oil and gas operator for violating industry standards, auditors said.

“Twenty-four years without a fine? Are you kidding me?” Democratic Sen. Karen Mayne said Tuesday. “Someone is not taking care of business,” she said.

The division has also left taxpayers on the hook for about $1 million in reclamation costs for abandoned wells, auditors said.

In addition, the division has been stockpiling money in a reserve fund instead of hiring more employees to conduct inspections, auditors said.

The $4.1 million could be used to help the understaffed division, auditors said.

Changes are already under way including reducing the unresolved cases backlog from 105 to 33 cases, Division Director John Baza and Department Executive Director Brian Steed said in a written response.

“It isn’t enough to say we recognize we need to improve,” they said in a news release.

“We are taking steps to improve the leadership, culture and expectations. We want to go beyond the recommendations in this audit to create sustainable and responsive change. The program is evolving, requiring accountability and commitment at all levels.”