The COGCC does a very poor job of tracking and publishing information and statistics on violations of its rules.
And unlike some other states, the COGCC does not have a user-friendly, public database that provides information on violations. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to determine if the number of violations is increasing or decreasing, which rules are most often violated, or if there are companies that are particularly bad actors.
Without this information, it is difficult to know where to focus inspection and enforcement efforts.
The only publicly accessible statistics related to violations are for Notices of Alleged Violations (NOAVs). But COGCC statistics on NOAVs are uncertain.
The number of NOAVs does not represent the number of violations because violations do not necessarily lead to the issuance of NOAVs (See Box).
Also, when NOAVs are issued, they may cite violations of more than one rule, order, or permit condition. For example, one NOAV issued to Cutler Brothers on Dec. 28, 2010 cited alleged violations of Rules 604 a(4), 906 e(1), 210 d(1)(2), and 15 other rules.
Box 2: What does it take to get a NOAV?
“[L]arge area of oily soil from well leak at stuffing box,” “supply line (for injection) had broke. The water was coming out of the ground 3 feet from the well and traveling down grade. . .stained soil and sagebrush,” “oil saturated soil around well head,” “some pooling oil,” “tank bottoms from Christianson Tank Battery were dumped,” “open-cased wellbore was observed and hydrocarbon odor was noted,” “partially buried crude tank appears to be leaking,” “(2nd Notice) Repair berms, oil in berms, oily soil in 50% of tank pad,” “(3rd Notice) remove or remediate oily soil,” “chemical tank without containment,” “location has not been reclaimed.”
A review of 1,000 inspections that took place between August 3 and Sept. 23, 2011, showed 145 “unsatisfactory” inspections, yet only 77 of those inspections listed violations. If rules were broken, the inspection reports should have noted violations. If rules were not broken, then it’s not clear what made the inspection “unsatisfactory.”
Of the 77 inspections showing violations only 11 NOAVs were issued to operators. In some cases, the violations were minor, such as not having the proper signs on tanks.
In other cases, however, NOAVs were not issued even when there were spills or contamination events (see Box 2) or when inspections indicated that operators had been informed of the violation two times before (i.e., it was the third notice).
The COGCC needs to do a better job of consistently assessing, tracking statistics, and publicly reporting violations, and the agency should issue NOAVs whenever violations occur.