New Mexico, how much do you know about how the oil and gas industry is regulated? Who’s watching to make sure these companies are playing by the rules? Who even makes the rules? What happens when the rules are broken?
We’re going to explore this in some depth because it’s a truly important topic for us in New Mexico and we’ll all be better off if we understand things a little better.
Let’s start off with some numbers: Since 2008, the equivalent of 33.5 barrels of oil PER DAY have been spilled in New Mexico. A barrel is measured at 42 US gallons, so that means every day 1,407 gallons of crude are leaked, spilled, and otherwise not properly contained in our state.
And that’s not even counting the other “byproducts” of the oil and gas industry that are routinely “lost” due to equipment malfunction, equipment failure, and human error. “Produced water,” the remnants of fluid used in fracking often laced with toxic chemicals, “Condensates” and “Natural Gas Liquids,” the liquified forms of natural gas, are all byproducts that have astounding levels of spills themselves.
So that’s pretty awful. These numbers are representative of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individual instances that occur around the state every year and are reported to or discovered by the state’s Oil Conservation Division or OCD.
Despite knowing about all of these infractions leading to literally thousands of gallons of fossil fuel pollution, OCD imposed exactly ZERO dollars in fines last year. Yup. Zero. Zip. Nada. For the 1,712 known violations in 2018, not a single cent was collected in compensation for those violations. Oh, and that happened back in 2015 too. Actually, for the over 10,000 separate violations since 2011, there have only been SEVEN penalties issued by OCD under the Martinez Administration.
So yeah, under the previous administration, OCD did little to nothing to enforce violations or violators in terms of penalties. And without real enforcement, what impetus did the oil and gas industry have to follow the rules, fix equipment, ensure compliance, and you know, not just trash the state because it’s easier and cheaper than keeping up with standards?
This lack of enforcement can be traced back to a huge legal loophole opened by the oil and gas industry and their lawyers. Due to a Supreme Court case brought by the oil and gas industry, the OCD currently cannot issue fines administratively even if it wanted to.
But legal loopholes can be fixed and now the legislature has a chance to change all that.
Senate Bill 186, titled: OIL CONSERVATION DIVISION POWERS & DUTIES, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday morning. SB186 gives real teeth to the OCD, allowing them to impose penalties of up to $25,000 per day for reported infractions. This levels the playing field, giving the OCD the same powers to hold the oil and gas industry accountable that other industries in New Mexico have to face at the Environment Department.
There’s a lot more to all this and we want to go through some more details in the coming weeks as SB186 works its way through the legislature.
But for now we know that we need SB186 to give real authority back to the people who are responsible for helping us, the citizens of New Mexico, ensure that those oil and gas companies are all playing by the rules and that our health, our water and our air are protected.