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Oil And Gas Regulator Reports Faulty Oversight Of Oil Wells

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

Oil well in Kern County, CA.

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

The California agency that oversees oil and gas drilling says 55,000 oil injection wells statewide need review.

The Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources in the state Department of Conservation released a self-audit Thursday, detailing faulty oversight.

It found more than 500 oil-producing or wastewater wells with potential to contaminate drinking water. The department says it has not found any instances of contamination in limited testing.

More broadly, the report lays out a pattern of drilling projects never examined, wells never tested for integrity, incomplete records and literal paperwork.

"Most of the documents for managing wells and regulations are paper," says Conservation Department director David Bunn. "And so we will be overhauling our IT and business systems."

Bunn says the division will reevaluate old rules, reexamine every project, and reorganize its staff over the next three years.

Kassie Siegel at the Center for Biological Diversity says that's too much study without enough action to block potentially contaminated wells.

"It is a real, serious environmental and health crisis that we have because of these violations," says Siegel. "And the steps that have been announced to respond to them are absolutely inadequate.

The Center filed a lawsuit earlier this year over the safety of the wells.