When oil and gas companies go unregulated, people die and families are dislocated

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A month ago ProgressNow New Mexico published a blog about SB 186, a bill that would equip the Oil Conservation Division (OCD) with actual enforcement and punitive powers to enforce state regulations on oil and gas operators in the state. In that piece we highlighted how over the last decade the oil and gas industry has caused literally THOUSANDS of infractions but because of a legal loophole, OCD has not been able to fine those companies, leaving those companies with little motivation to adhere to the law.
This isn’t just an academic issue. This is a real problem with real consequences for New Mexicans.  Today we want to look at some specific examples of where major failings have happened around the state that affected New Mexicans’ lives and where, if OCD were able to hold these companies accountable, disasters like this could be avoided.

Doña Ana County Pipeline Failure

In December, just 10 days before Christmas a pipeline operated by Kinder Morgan failed in the rural village of Berino in Southern Doña Ana County spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel on the doorsteps of residents. Since then at least three different homes have been bought out by Kinder Morgan and those families completely relocated. The irrigation ditch nearby has been closed, affecting farmers downstream, and the road nearby has also been closed because tons, like literal tons, of contaminated soil has been excavated from the site. The cause of that spill is still being investigated, but at this time it doesn’t appear that Kinder Morgan is being held accountable by any regulatory body in the state.

WPX Explosion(s)

Last year an oil field worker lost his life in an explosion and subsequent fire near Loving, in Eddy County, that also injured another worker. That horrific incident happened less than a year after three workers were killed in another explosion at a battery of oil tanks outside of Carlsbad. Worth noting though is that the incident last year in Loving happened at a facility operated by WPX Energy, a company based in Oklahoma but with multiple facilities in New Mexico. WPX also operated the facility that in 2016 caught fire near Chaco Canyon, and burned for days before being extinguished. That explosion was so massive it caused the temporary closure of the nearby highway and the evacuation of 55 nearby residents.

And here is why it’s worth tying these all together. That company, WPX had JUST opened that facility near Chaco.

“The site that exploded is a brand new facility that consists of six wells drilled to shale formations that have never been adequately analyzed for impacts and safety concerns.” Mike Eisenfeld, the Energy and Climate Program manager at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, told EcoWatch in an email.

WPX was given approval to develop the site from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division in September. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office gave final approval to drill the land in December.

The explosion happened in July, 2016 and WPX has received zero in penalties as a result.

These are just a few examples of incidents that made news but with 1,400 gallons of oil spilled EVERY DAY in New Mexico, we know that the industry is riddled with facilities in need of repair and maintenance. The oversight of these facilities falls to the OCD, but when that body can’t issue meaningful citations backed by significant fines to give them leverage, no wonder we keep hearing about the same companies and same bad actors every few months when another community is evacuated or someone dies.

Supporting SB 186 is just common sense. And, it needs to be passed clean, without amendments from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association that would water down the penalties or put any kind of cap on them.

Call your legislator NOW and encourage them to support SB 186!