When a state legislative audit in November said Utah’s Division of Oil, Gas and Mining has an “alarming” lack of oversight, outcry was intense, focusing on a finding that the division hadn’t pursued a fine for violations since 1995.
Now, a bill by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, is trying to change that track record, by changing the appeals process and creating a standardized schedule of fines the division could impose.
Ruland Gill, a member of the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining, attributes the lack of enforcement found in November’s audit to the cost associated with responding to an appeal, which is handled by a judge.
“To go through another full blown trial, the staff just didn't have the time to deal with that,” he said. “There's just too many things that are happening. And so it didn't get done.”
Okerlund’s bill would move that appeals process from the courts to the Board of Oil, Gas and Mining.
“It doesn't go far enough,” Carly Ferro, an organizer with the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club, wrote in a statement. “It shouldn't haven't taken such a scathing audit to take steps to protect taxpayers and the community.”
The Utah Petroleum Association and the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining both support Okerlund’s bill.
“The current civil court process is inefficient and costly to taxpayers,” John Baza, director of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, wrote in a statement. “Giving the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining authority to collect fines directly would be a positive step forward in helping us accomplish program objectives more effectively and address issues highlighted in the legislative audit.”
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson