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Colorado Oil And Gas Team Additions Means More Wells Get Inspected

Jim Hill
A drilling operation near Frederick, Colo., August, 2013.

In 2012, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is responsible for keeping track of and inspecting the tens of thousands of oil wells in the state, had just 17 inspectors to examine over 47,000 active wells.

Now, the state has added 11 more inspectors, upping their capacity to where in 2013 they were able to inspect about half of the 53,000 active wells across the state.

The additional funding which made the hires possible came from the legislature’s 2013 session, said Dave Kulmann, COGCC deputy director of field operations.

"It is a pretty healthy number (of inspectors) we feel right now," said Kulmann. "Could we always use more inspectors, sure … but at that rate being able to inspect almost half the wells in the state is a pretty good measure of where we are at right now."

The state prioritizes its inspections with a "red" list of wells that meet certain higher risk criteria. The higher priority wells are those that are near public water systems, have had spills in the past, have failed prior inspections, had a complaint from a resident, or require a mechanical integrity test. Other criteria include the amount of time since the last inspection and how long it has been in service, said Kulmann.

"We try to hit every well at least once every three years, that's an internal goal that we have."

A recent report from Government Accountability Office found that the federal government has failed to inspect four in 10 high-risk wells on its lands, including 244 in Colorado. The COGCC has an agreement with federal officials that it can inspect wells on federal land, and may have inspected some of those 244 high-risk wells, said Kulmann. He is awaiting a list of the wells to see if any of them have been state inspected.

The COGCC is in the midst of updating its own high risk criteria, adding such factors as nearness to population centers, potential risk to wildlife, and proximity to groundwater wells, Kulmann said.

They expect to test that model in August and start using it to inform their inspection priorities toward the end of 2014 or early 2015.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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