Does the Government have the tools to help ensure oil and gas safety and the availability of America’s energy lifeline? It is no secret that the agencies that are the most closely involved in regulating oil and gas are understaffed, but a new study shows how much and some of the challenges they face in trying to beef up their ranks.
Now, let’s remember that oil and gas leasing revenue is the biggest source of non-tax funding for our government, bringing in about $10 billion in revenue a year. Making sure the government has the people to staff that effort ought to be a priority.
However, a study by the so-called government watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, shows that the government needs to do a lot more to staff the three agencies that oversee most oil and gas activity. The study looks at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). GAO found that they have a hard time finding suitable new candidates and then holding on to their existing employees.
A few key findings:
- It takes about 120 days to fill a vacancy for a petroleum engineer or inspector. Many candidates find other jobs in the meantime.
- Agencies can’t compete for talent when industry salaries for engineers are at least twice that of BLM mid-level engineers, and applicants for inspector positions at BLM can earn 60 to 70 percent more if they work for industry
- Once hired, workers don’t stay. BLM petroleum engineers have an annual attrition rate of nearly 22% and BSEE inspectors quit at a rate of abut 10 percent a year.
- It only gets worse. Half of BLM petroleum engineers and BOEM geologists and 35% of BSEE personnel retire within three years!
The industry and the public need to recognize that the government’s hiring problems are also our problems. Most significantly, GAO did a statistical analysis comparing Gulf of Mexico inspections under current hiring levels with inspections if BSEE could fill its positions. It found that, under the current levels, BSEE can meet its obligations to do annual inspections of offshore facilities, but it cannot perform additional, focused inspections of so-called “high risk” facilities. With more inspectors, the agency could do annual inspections and a significant number of high risk visits.
The GAO also found evidence that, as BLM tries to juggle its duties, shifting personnel to inspections is resulting in significant delays in granting drilling permits and planning lease sales.
That is like starving the goose that lays the golden eggs.