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Jun 15, 2014 - The Associated Press

Nearly half state's oil, gas wells uninspected

CHEYENNE -- Almost half of all newly drilled oil and gas wells considered high pollution risks in Wyoming weren't inspected over a recent three-year period, according to an Associated Press review of federal data.

Nationwide, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials failed to examine about 40 percent of such high-priority wells, showing a department struggling to keep pace with America's drilling boom over the past decade.

The bureau provided the AP with national records giving a snapshot of inspections from fiscal year 2009 to 2012. The agency oversees 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands, about 3,500 of which received the high-priority designation because they're located near national forests, fragile watersheds or are otherwise identified as higher pollution risks.

Wyoming was among the top states for oil and gas drilling during that span, yet BLM records show that 45 percent of the roughly 1,400 new, high-priority wells on public lands in the state weren't reviewed at the time.

Federal budget cuts are among the reasons more wells weren't inspected in Wyoming, according to BLM staffers in at the agency's state headquarters in Cheyenne.

"The BLM currently lacks the authority to charge industry fees to cover the costs of conducting inspection and enforcement activities," spokeswoman Cindy Wertz said. "This leaves the agency dependent upon yearly appropriations that do not always track with workloads."

The bureau also has struggled to recruit and retain adequate staff to conduct inspections, especially in areas such as western Wyoming that have seen significant oil and gas drilling.

Rules changed on Hill probe

CHEYENNE -- The House committee investigating schools Superintendent Cindy Hill has changed its rules to streamline the process that has run much longer than originally planned.

The committee is reviewing work done by Hill during the first part of her tenure with the Wyoming Department of Education.

Hill was removed from running the department by Senate File 104 in early 2013 but returned this spring after the law was ruled unconstitutional by the Wyoming Supreme Court.

The committee's final report is set to include results of the inquiry, fact-finding and recommendations.

Members of the committee voted 13 to 2 to make changes that include dropping the 15-day time window for Hill or members of her staff to comment on subcommittee draft reports.

Hill is running for governor against incumbent Matt Mead and has predicted that the House panel will time its new activities in order to draw negative attention to her during this summer's primary election campaign.

State inmate dead at 72

TORRINGTON -- The Wyoming Department of Corrections reports that a 72-year-old inmate has died while still serving out his life prison sentence.

The agency says Joseph J. Vena died Thursday at the Banner Health Community Hospital in Torrington.

Vena was an inmate at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution.

Vena was serving consecutive life sentences for first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder out of Laramie County. He was sentenced in September 1995.

More rigs active in Wyoming

HOUSTON -- Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. declined by six this week to 1,854.

The Houston firm said in its weekly report Friday that 1,542 rigs were exploring for oil and 310 for gas. Two were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,771 active rigs.

Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, New Mexico gained five rigs and Wyoming increased by three. Kansas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania were up two each while West Virginia rose by one.

Texas declined by eight, Louisiana was down four and California and Ohio lost one apiece.

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota and Utah were unchanged.

The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999.

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