ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Oil and gas companies in southeastern New Mexico have been allowed by the state to skip inspections of electrical systems for oil and gas well projects over the past 10 months.
The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/ZB6W77) that some well operators have been allowed to receive electric power without having an inspection. Typically, such safety inspections occur before a utility turns on power to a new project.
By early April of this year, a state computer account contained more than 500 requests for electrical inspections that still hadn't been performed, yet those projects were allowed to get electricity anyway. The account also included dozens of requests for electrical inspections of water wells and electric hookups of manufactured homes in the same area.
State officials have taken the inspection requests off the back burner after the newspaper inquired about them.
Enrique Knell, a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, said in an email Friday that the governor's office is monitoring the situation and asked that all pending inspections be completed within the next 90 days.
J. Dee Dennis Jr., superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department, said in an interview that the state still has a duty to perform the safety checks, even though power has already been turned on at the sites.
Earlier this month, however, two of his subordinates questioned how the backlog could be tackled, given the number of state electrical inspectors available.
In an April 2 Journal interview, Dennis said the governor's office wasn't opposed to the idea of allowing "annual permits" that would require inspectors to periodically review a sample of oil and gas well electrical hookups.
On Friday, Knell told the Journal that the annual permit is an "option that needs to be examined much more thoroughly."
Under the New Mexico Administrative Code, "All work for which a permit is issued must be inspected."
Since June 27 of last year, the state's Construction Industries Division call center has routed certain requests to a state computer account called "E-Vacant" when the location was in the southeastern part of the state. Instead of dispatching an inspector, officials granted "utility releases" that gave the green light to utility companies.
State construction industries officials say they created the account after being "run over" with requests from Lea, Eddy and Chaves counties for oil and gas well inspections over the past year. A legislative analysis in March found that at least 1,070 oil and gas wells were completed in 2012.
James "Kelly" Hunt, electric bureau chief for the Construction Industries Division, said in a March 5 email to an agency lawyer that he accepts responsibility for conceiving and carrying out the "E-Vacant" account. "There was (and is) no way we could physically visit all of these locations so we devised this account to 'park' permits that were not as critical as other commercial and residential permits," Hunt wrote.
Agency officials said there have been no reports of any incidents involving those uninspected sites.