For Immediate Release,
May 1, 2020
SALT LAKE CITY― The Utah Petroleum Association is asking Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to lift public health protections and financial requirements for the oil and gas industry because of the pandemic, according to a letter released today by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The March 25 letter came as the state’s legislature was about to convene a special session to consider bills to address the COVID-19 crisis. The oil producers asked state and federal officials to pause well-site inspections, lift bonding deadlines, defer royalty payments, extend timelines for drilling-permit approvals and allow abandoned wells to sit idle for up to seven years without any cleanup requirements.
“It’s appalling that oil companies are using the pandemic to try to sidestep critical public health and environmental protections,” said Ryan Beam, a public lands campaigner at the Center. “These safeguards are more important than ever with the industry in financial trouble. Gov. Herbert and lawmakers should be shoring these protections up, not waiving them. This oil-industry wish list will have real and painful effects in Utah.”
Pandemic response measures, swelling global supply and mountains of debt have sent oil prices plummeting and upended the industry. This could lead to bankruptcies, more abandoned wells, less compliance and more safety violations. Companies can face corrective action, fines and court orders for failing to comply with state and federal regulations.
A November audit by Utah’s Legislative Auditor General’s Office blasted a state department for lax enforcement, saying it had “fostered a culture of noncompliance.” The audit said the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining has let cases languish for years after companies flouted regulations, failed to inspect dilapidated wells and didn’t require adequate bonding to cover site cleanup costs, leaving taxpayers holding the bill.
“Utah is doing a poor job of regulating the oil industry and we shouldn’t make it worse by giving in to the industry’s demands,” said Beam. “Now more than ever, the governor and state officials must ensure that these important public safety and environmental safeguards are followed.”