Ohio Beefs Up Inspection Force, Numbers will Triple by 2013

One more sign that Utica Shale drilling in Ohio is heating up: By the end of this year, the state will add as many as 70 new field inspectors, tripling the size of its inspection team.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says it plans to add many as 70 new field inspectors to its oil and gas team by the end of the year, more than tripling its inspection force.

The agency had more than a quarter of its budget cut between 2011 and 2012, but it will be able to add the new workers thanks to a huge increase in fees collected from drilling applications. Natural gas companies drilled just 25 new wells in Ohio in 2011. But state regulators predict that number will soar to 250 by the end of this year and double by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, oil well drilling is expected to stay steady.

Even before it began adding workers en masse, Ohio ratcheted up its inspections. Last year, Ohio’s team of about 30 inspectors performed a total of 11,842 inspections, up from 1,300 in 2010.

But Ohio inspectors visited fewer than half of the state’s 55,749 oil and gas wells. In Ohio, as in many other states, inspectors simply don’t have enough time to visit the hundreds — or thousands — of wells they are assigned to oversee.

A well inspection can take hours or just minutes, depending on the circumstances. Most inspections take place during new drilling, when environmental problems are most likely to occur. In Ohio and Colorado, regulators might visit a new drilling site a handful of times in a single week, state officials say.

Once the drilling process is complete, inspectors spend most of their time responding to complaints — from landowners or others — about local wells. When there is time, inspectors make random visits. They check for cracks in cement well casings, or damage to other equipment that may cause spills, or leakage of poisonous gas into the air or water supply.*

*Akron (OH) Beacon Journal (Jul 5, 2012) – Ohio to hire 70 new drilling inspectors