Federal land agency seeks fee on oil, gas wells on government land to hire more inspectors

A proposed fee on oil and gas wells on federal land would allow the Bureau of Land Management to hire more than 60 inspectors, the agency said Thursday.

The fee would be paid by well operators and would range from $700 to $9,800 annually per lease, depending on how many wells were on the lease. It would raise about $48 million a year for onshore inspections, the federal agency said.

BLM Director Neil Kornze told a mineral law conference in Vail on Thursday that the agency needs to step up its inspections.

The Associated Press reported last month that 40 percent of new wells on federal and Indian land with a higher pollution risk hadn't been inspected from fiscal year 2009 to 2012.

Government data reviewed by the AP showed the BLM is so overwhelmed by the current oil and gas boom that it has been unable to keep up with inspections of some of the highest priority wells. The agency oversees oil and gas wells on public land.

Kornze blamed shrinking budgets, a shortage of inspectors and a record number of wells.

The fee is included in President Barack Obama's fiscal 2015 budget. Congress rejected previous fee proposals, BLM spokeswoman Bev Winston said.