May 13, 2014 - 4:45pm

State Agencies Successfully Regulating Energy Development, GAO Finds


Senior Editor, Digital Content

Bloomberg_Oil_Rig_Watford_City_ND_800px.jpg

An oil pump jack stands outside of Watford City, North Dakota. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg.
An oil pump jack stands outside of Watford City, North Dakota. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg.


Katie Brown at Energy In Depth digs into the details of a new General Accountability Office (GAO) report that reinforces the point I made yesterday. State agencies are doing a good job in regulating natural gas development.

The GAO finds that:

In September 2012, we reported that well integrity is essential to isolate the well and protect the environment, including the groundwater. Some states we reviewed have revised regulations for well construction to require well-integrity testing, pressure monitoring testing, and new casing and cementing standards. For instance, in 2013, Texas updated its rules for cement quality, cementing, well equipment, centralizers, and well control. Specifically, the state established a minimum cement thickness for casing strings and consolidated requirements for well control and blowout preventers. The revised rule also adds requirements for wells that will be hydraulically fractured, such as pressure testing of the casing, and it requires operators to notify the state when a test fails and remedial work is necessary.

“GAO juxtaposes states’ effective efforts with BLM’s rules, which are outdated, inefficient and ‘have not kept pace with technological advancements,’” writes Brown.

What’s more, BLM is duplicating what state agencies are doing:

Both BLM and state regulatory agency officials told us that some wells have been inspected by both BLM and state regulatory inspectors, and other wells have not been inspected at all. In addition, state regulatory officials said that the increasing number of horizontal wells that will likely traverse federal or Indian resources and state or private resources is expected to increase the number of duplicative inspections.

This illustration from the GAO report shows a horizontal well that starts off on private land, turns into federal, Indian, and state land. Both BLM and the state agency have “overlapping authorities to conduct drilling inspections,” according to the report. Two sets of inspectors are needed to look at the same well.

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GAO chart of a horizontal wellbore.
Source: Government Accountability Office.


This is a waste of inspectors’ time when states are doing a capable job of regulating oil and natural gas wells.

After reading the GAO report, it calls into question the need for federal agencies like EPA writing duplicative regulations on hydraulic fracturing. States agencies are getting the job done. 

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.