EARTHWORKS

Colorado Oil & Gas Enforcement - Violations

The COGCC does a very poor job of tracking and publishing information and statistics on violations of its rules.

And unlike some other states, the COGCC does not have a user-friendly, public database that provides information on violations. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to determine if the number of violations is increasing or decreasing, which rules are most often violated, or if there are companies that are particu­larly bad actors.

Without this information, it is difficult to know where to focus inspection and enforcement efforts.

NOAVs make violation reporting more confusing

Box 1: COGCC Field Inspection Report

Click the thumbnail for a larger view

The only publicly accessible statistics related to violations are for Notices of Alleged Violations (NOAVs). But COGCC statistics on NOAVs are uncertain.

The statistics on NOAVs reported in COGCC staff reports differ from data downloaded from the COGCC Inspection/Incident Inquiry online database. (See Table

The number of NOAVs does not represent the number of violations because violations do not necessarily lead to the issuance of NOAVs (See Box).

Also, when NOAVs are issued, they may cite violations of more than one rule, order, or permit condition. For example, one NOAV issued to Cutler Brothers on Dec. 28, 2010 cited alleged violations of Rules 604 a(4), 906 e(1), 210 d(1)(2), and 15 other rules.

Violation reporting is inconsistent

Box 2: What does it take to get a NOAV?
Reported incidents that did not result in a NOAV.

 “[L]arge area of oily soil from well leak at stuffing box,” “supply line (for injection) had broke. The water was coming out of the ground 3 feet from the well and traveling down grade. . .stained soil and sagebrush,” “oil saturated soil around well head,” “some pooling oil,” “tank bottoms from Christianson Tank Battery were dumped,” “open-cased wellbore was observed and hydrocarbon odor was noted,” “partially buried crude tank appears to be leaking,” “(2nd Notice) Repair berms, oil in berms, oily soil in 50% of tank pad,” “(3rd Notice) remove or remediate oily soil,” “chemical tank without containment,” “location has not been reclaimed.”

A review of 1,000 inspections that took place between August 3 and Sept. 23, 2011, showed 145 “unsatisfactory” inspections, yet only 77 of those inspections listed violations. If rules were broken, the inspection reports should have noted violations. If rules were not broken, then it’s not clear what made the inspection “unsatisfactory.”

Of the 77 inspections showing violations only 11 NOAVs were issued to operators. In some cases, the violations were minor, such as not having the proper signs on tanks.

In other cases, however, NOAVs were not issued even when there were spills or contamination events (see Box 2) or when inspections indicated that operators had been informed of the violation two times before (i.e., it was the third notice).

There were also cases where a similar type of violation (e.g., an open wellbore that needed to be plugged and the well site reclaimed) resulted in an NOAV for one operator but not for another.

The COGCC needs to do a better job of consistently assessing, tracking statistics, and publicly report­ing violations, and the agency should issue NOAVs whenever violations occur.


For more information:

Endnotes

1: One good example is the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Compliance Reporting database, which provides information on inspections, violations, enforcement actions, and penalties assessed and collected.  It is online, searchable, and data can be downloaded to spreadsheets so that users can sort, filter and analyze the data.

2: COGCC monthly staff reports include monthly statistics on NOAVs, and COGCC’s Inspection/Incident Inquiry allows users to search for NOAVs.

3: COGCC Inspection/Incident Inquiry, select Inspection. Search conducted Sept. 27, 2011. Searched for 1000 records (the maximum at the time. Users can now search 5000 records).

4: COGCC Inspection/Incident Inquiry, select Inspection. By clicking on the document hyperlink, the field inspection reports were viewed, which indicated whether or not an NOAV was sent.  (Note: searches for newer inspection records do not link to online data; rather, the user is able to download a pdf of the inspection report. These pdf reports do not indicate whether or not an NOAV was sent.)

Tagged with: violations, noav, enforcement, colorado

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