Poor enforcement of oil and gas regulations by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management likely resulted in some oil thefts, loss of revenues to Indians and environmental damage, the agency's director said Wednesday.
But Cy Jamison said his agency has found such problems to be relatively minor and has taken numerous steps to improve future enforcement.Jamison was responding to criticism of the BLM in three separate recent reports by the Interior Department's inspector general, the U.S. General Accounting Office and an investigative panel of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs.
Those investigations charged that the BLM didn't take adequate steps to prevent theft of oil on Indian lands or report it to law enforcement agencies, that it does not verify production reports to ensure the government receives proper revenues and that it needs to more uniformly assess penalties.
Nationally, the BLM's staff of 117 field inspectors conducts 12,225 production inspections a year and more than 2,500 inspections of drilling and well abandonment.
"I don't want to downplay the reports. We did have some environmental problems, some problems with capping abandoned wells and probably some stealing of oil and gas," Jamison told reporters.
"But we didn't find any major smoking guns . . . I think our people are generally doing fine, but we can always do better."
Although the BLM has faced similar allegations for years, Jamison said he decided when he took over the BLM last June to confront them and clean up the agency's reputation.
Some of the actions initiated in response include:
-Clarifying that the BLM has criminal investigation authority of oil and gas violations on Indian lands.
-Putting more responsibility on buyers to verify production records.
-Establishing procedures for cooperating with other law enforcement agencies.
During Senate hearings last year, a BLM inspection director said he didn't call the FBI about oil thefts on Indian lands because he "didn't have the phone number." That prompted Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., to wave a phone book at him and offer to look up the number himself.
About that, Jamison said, "It was stupid, and we deserved criticism."
The BLM is also seeking more inspectors, setting up systems to catch theft of oil on public land by closely monitoring pipeline transmission and refining and making production reports to Indians easier to understand to allow them to ensure they are being treated fairly.
Wells on BLM land
In the Beehive State, the BLM oversees 900 oil and 904 natural gas wells on public lands and 274 oil and 24 gas wells on Indian lands. The commercial value of the oil and gas produced in 1988 on just the Utah public lands was nearly $125 million and produced $16 million in federal revenues, BLM figures show.