ST. TAMMANY, La. -- Fracking opponents in St. Tammany are saying "I told you so" in response to an audit report critical of the state's regulations of oil and gas wells.
This legislative auditor's report into the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources' Office of Conservation, the agency responsible for keeping eyes on oil and gas drilling, has aggravated tensions in St. Tammany that were spawned by a proposed fracking project.
"Frankly, it makes me wonder if those policies are even worth the paper they are printed on,” said Stephanie Houston Grey, who opposes fracking in the area.
The report, which looked at five years of regulation records, said the agency didn't inspect more than half of the state's wells in the three-year time span it set for itself, and 25 percent of those weren't inspected at all, while some wells were inspected several times.
The report also says there is no effective enforcement process, including not penalizing wells where re-inspections found the problem still existed.
Seeing the deficiencies makes residents who have been told to trust the state's oversight process by several sources even more sour.
"It's kind of what we had suspected,” said Cindy Brooking, a fracking opponent. “I was a little bit alarmed at the numbers."
The agency says staffing shortages, out-of-date record keeping and heightened priorities on new drilling following the shale boom in north Louisiana have led to the issues, but it welcomes the changes recommended, including a risk-based inspection process and formal policies.
“They saw the challenges, kind of saw the same things we did as far as issues that are best to be addressed and gave some ideas, perhaps where we were being too aggressive, trying to cover too many bases at once,” said Patrick Courreges.
Parish officials say the findings fuel the fire to take their own steps.
"That right there tells you that we have to create something to safeguard the public health and water,” said Councilman Jake Groby,
The Commission on Conservation is set to consider Helis' location for the proposed work in two weeks.