About 85 percent of 276 oil and gas well sites inspected in southeastern New Mexico over the past six weeks have failed to pass after-the-fact electrical safety inspections.
Correction notices were issued to those sites that received a “failed” grade. None has been ordered to stop operations.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that Gov. Susana Martinez’s office had called for the belated inspections after learning that the state Construction Industries Division had parked more than 500 inspection requests in a computer file because there weren’t enough inspectors to do the work.
The governor’s directive came after the Journal made inquiries in April about companies that were allowed by the state to skip inspections of electrical systems for oil and gas projects.
CID spokesman S.U. Mahesh told the Journal in a May 30 email that no oil and gas well sites failed the recent inspections.
The Journal, however, checked an agency website last week and discovered more than 270 oil and gas well inspection reports filed by state inspectors who have been whittling down the backlog for weeks.
The reports listed the address of the site inspected, the date of inspection, comments from the inspector and included a box to show the result. The words “Failed-Failed” were entered in the result box on 236 inspection reports. The rest were marked “Pass.”
Asked to explain, Mahesh replied in an email that inspectors used the word “failed” on the reports instead of recording them as passed inspections with corrections that were made. “This is simply a data entry issue,” Mahesh said.
The inspection reports also show that some inspectors faced potential health hazards at well sites, encountering signs warning of poisonous gas.
Hydrogen sulfide gas, a natural byproduct of well drilling, is toxic and flammable, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
CID managers told the inspectors not to inspect sites with warning signs, but safety equipment and training to deal with the conditions didn’t arrive until more than three weeks into the inspections, records show.
Mahesh said no life-threatening situations have been discovered, no red tags issued and no oil or gas wells have been ordered shut down pending completion of the corrections.
Inspections are supposed to be performed and corrections completed prior to the state granting permission for electricity connection.
Rather than ask the oil and gas producers to wait, CID began to issue “releases” last June that allowed electricity to be turned on at the sites and drilling operations to begin.
Two inspectors were eventually hired to work in the southeastern region, but the number of pending inspection requests kept growing. By mid-April, the number hit 512.
Some agency officials believed there was no way to catch up.
But at Martinez’s direction, a team of nine inspectors from around the state was dispatched in early May with orders to eliminate the backlog within 90 days.
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said even though no “life safety” issues have arisen requiring the shutting down of well sites, “correction notices of any magnitude are still issues that should be addressed.”
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