Failure to inspect oil rigs another argument for “real-time regulation”

The news that the Bureau of Land Management has failed to inspect thousands of fracking and other oil wells considered at high risk for contaminating water is Exhibit A for my argument we need Intnet of Things-based “real-time regulation” for a variety of risky regulated businesses.

According to a new GAO report obtained by AP:

“Investigators said weak control by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management resulted from policies based on outdated science and from incomplete monitoring data….

“The audit also said the BLM did not coordinate effectively with state regulators in New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.”

Let’s face it: a regulatory scheme based on after-the-fact self-reporting by the companies themselves backed up by infrequent site visits by an inadequate number of inspectors will never adequately protect the public and the environment.  In this case, the GAO said that “…. the BLM had failed to conduct inspections on more than 2,100 of the 3,702 wells that it had specified as ‘high priority’ and drilled from 2009 through 2012. The agency considers a well ‘high priority’ based on a greater need to protect against possible water contamination and other environmental safety issues.”

By contrast, requiring that oil rigs and a range of other technology-based products, from jet engines to oil pipelines, have sensors attached (or, over time, built in) that would send real-time data to the companies should allow them to spot incipient problems at their earliest stages, in time to schedule early maintenance that would both reduce maintenance costs and reduce or even eliminate catastrophic failures. As I said before, this should be a win-win solution.

If problems still persisted after the companies had access to this real-time data, then more draconian steps could be required, such as also giving state and federal regulators real-time access to the same data — something that would be easy to do with IoT-based systems. There would have to be tight restrictions on access to the data that would protect proprietary corporate information, but companies that are chronic offenders would forfeit some of those protections to protect the public interest.

 

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