State audit shows lax compliance of abandoned wells

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Thousands of oil and gas wells have been drilled around the state, some left abandoned and  others orphaned. A report by the Legislative Auditor says that could mean a risk to public safety. The audit found the people in charge of overseeing the problem, the Office of Conservation under the Department of Natural Resources, is not doing its job.

Daryl Purpera, the state legislative auditor, says orphaned wells were drilled at one point in time, but are no longer productive. He adds in many cases they were left abandoned and unplugged.

There are about 60,000 oil and gas wells in Louisiana.

Purpera says when wells are drilled, companies are required to set aside money in case anything goes wrong or to help with clean-up issues. Of those nearly 60,000 wells, 2,850 are orphaned, according to Purpera.

He says the Office of Conservation is not paying the necessary attention to those orphaned wells.

"Fifty-three percent of those that were orphaned oil wells were not monitored within the last three years as required by their regulations," Purpera said. "Sometimes as many as six years would go by without an actual inspection."

Those, he says, have the potential for environmental hazards like polluting the water supplies.

The audit also found the OC is not requiring companies to pay penalties for violations and that lax enforcement is creating an atmosphere of non-compliance. It finds that Louisiana is not holding companies to the same standards that many other states are.

"Presents the image of we allow this. We're not going to penalize you."

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Governor Bobby Jindal said his experts have the next six months to correct what the auditor found.

"My understanding is the office does have a plan involving new technology and new protocols to hold companies accountable to meet the audit findings. We're going to give them six months to implement those new technologies and new protocols and we're going to then ask the auditor to come back within six months to make sure the findings have been addressed. Every  one of those."

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