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Failures in New Mexico Show Need for Federal Oil and Gas Drilling Standards

Energy

Earthworks

Today Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project released a new report, NM OCD: Inadequate enforcement guarantees irresponsible oil and gas development. Part of a national assessment of state oil and gas regulatory enforcement, highlights of the New Mexico-specific findings include:

  • More than 60 percent of active oil & gas wells go uninspected each year
  • Where violations are found, individual inspectors have complete discretion as to whether and how violations are recorded—in essence, each inspector is his or her own lawmaker
  • Few violators are penalized, and when they are, penalties are too low to deter future violations
  • Public is prohibited access to data that would reveal how responsibly industry is operated, and how well Oil Conservation Division (OCD) is enforcing the law

“The OCD has failed in its mission to effectively enforce New Mexico oil and gas laws and regulations," said Gwen Lachelt, Earthworks’ Oil & Gas accountability director. "With their failure they guarantee irresponsible oil and gas development and put landowners, their water and the environment at risk.”

As this report is released, New Mexico is considering whether to weaken or eliminate the "Pit Rule," a national regulatory precedent in the cost-effective minimization of drilling waste.

“When it comes to oil and gas drilling oversight, New Mexico should not make things worse,” said Bruce Baizel, Earthworks’ OGAP senior staff attorney. "This report shows that the OCD does not have drilling oversight covered. If anything, New Mexico's OCD should consider slowing permitting until they get their house in order," he said.

The OCD’s role in enforcing state regulations is particularly important because many federal environmental statutes contain special exemptions for the oil and gas industry.

“New Mexico's failure to enforce its own rules highlights the need to close oil and gas loopholes in the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks’ policy director. “OCD’s inadequate performance shows why citizens need to have federal standards, as well as state regulations. In New Mexico’s case, state regulation means inadequate regulation, and therefore, irresponsible development," Pagel said.

The report closes with common-sense recommendations to improve OCD enforcement of oil and gas development regulations, including increasing inspection staff, standardizing and publicizing inspections, and increasing fines for violations.

“Responsible gas development cannot occur without adequate enforcement,” said Earthworks’ Gwen Lachelt. “To fulfill its mission to ‘foster responsible development,' OCD must hire enough inspectors to adequately enforce existing regulations, consistently and publicly report and track violations, and use meaningful penalties to provide a credible deterrent to irresponsible operations.”

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