New Mexico has 60,000 oil wells — and 14 oil well inspectors


Stagnant waste water near a fresh water pick up outside Hobbs, New MexicoMónica Ortiz Uribe

There’s a saying in southeast New Mexico that if God intended for there to be oil drilling, he picked the right kind of country for it. Out here the land is desolate. No trees, no mountains, just sky. A blue dome that arches over gentle slopes covered in prickly plant life…

Oil production in New Mexico has shot up 70 percent since 2008. The number of active wells across the state has grown to 60,000.

Compare that to the number of state inspectors who check those wells. Statewide there are just 14. Ron Harvey is one of them.

“I have almost 8,000 wells, just me,” Harvey said…

Harvey works for the Oil Conservation Division. It’s the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in New Mexico, and its inspectors are the police officers of the oilfield. It’s difficult for the state to retain them because they can double their salary if they work for an oil company…

The lack of enforcement staff makes keeping up with the workload impossible. According to OCD records, 40 percent of the wells in New Mexico were never inspected in 2013. That can put workers and the environment at risk. For example, a well that fails a pressure test could result in a deadly blow out. A leaky well can contaminate soil or groundwater…

Six years ago the OCD was sued by a local oil company and had to stop issuing fines for violations under the state’s Oil and Gas Act. Inspectors still have the option to deny permits to drill new wells or transport oil, but the process can be cumbersome and lengthy.

Staffing and enforcement aren’t his only concerns. Harvey’s 2008 Dodge pickup has 144,000 miles on it. It takes a severe beating in the oilfield where roads are sometimes nonexistent. His old desk computer takes five minutes to boot up…

Year after year the OCD’s budget represents less than one percent of the total tax revenue the state collects from the oil and gas industry. That revenue topped $1.7 billion in 2013.

First off, RTFA all the way through. There are links to three other sections of the larger reporting task the folks at Frontera Desk gave themselves about the state of the oil and gas industry in New Mexico. Conclusions are about what you expect. Even Democrats with liberal pretense are often in bed with folks who suck their money out of the ground. Republicans, of course, don’t even pretend.

Governor Susana used to debate folks over how she’s owned by The Oil Patch Boys from Texas. Nowadays, she just points out she’s equally owned by New Mexico fossil fusiliers. Last things she’s going to admit is that her owners are about the worst thing that’s happened to New Mexico’s environment and economy since folks started mining less coal and producing more natgas and crude.

The amorphous political clot that is the state legislature, The Roundhouse, can take the bulk of the credit over time. Lousy rules and mediocre oversight aren’t a recent fact of life in the Land of Enchantment. The spell of easy campaign money has long been cast over New Mexico political hacks.

9 thoughts on “New Mexico has 60,000 oil wells — and 14 oil well inspectors

  1. WTF says:

    In 2009 the Marbob Energy Corporation sued the state of New Mexico, arguing that statutes under the Oil and Gas Act of 1935 did not give the state direct authority to levy fines against the industry. The state supreme court agreed and as a result companies who violate the Oil and Gas Act are not penalized. In 2013, state Rep. Gail Chasey of Albuquerque introduced a bill that would reform the state’s Oil and Gas Act, which has not been amended since it was passed in 1935. That bill died in a floor vote in the House of Representatives after New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (which the Oil Conservation Division is a part of) opposed the bill, stating it already had “sufficient measures in place” to enforce its regulations.
    Meanwhile, as of 2011 New Mexico taxpayers were reportedly contributing $285,000 every day ($104 million a year) to subsidize the oil and gas industry. http://www.lcsun-news.com/las_cruces-news/ci_18556430

  2. Bob17 says:

    According to Colorado’s Oil and Gas Commissioner his state has 1,959 active wells per inspector, a ratio that puts it in the middle of seven oil- and gas-producing states the commission surveyed. Alaska had the lowest ratio, about 370 wells per inspector. Wyoming had the highest, more than 2,900 wells per inspector. http://trib.com/business/energy/regulator-colorado-has-oil-gas-wells-per-inspector/article_1313c4b2-33f4-528c-a1a7-65cdc62eb835.html As per the above New Mexico has 4,285.7 wells per inspector on average – with at least one inspector reportedly responsible for 8000 wells.

    • Deadzone says:

      “Colorado land impact of oil and gas boom: scars spread and stay” http://www.denverpost.com/environment/ci_27618385/colorado-land-impact-oil-and-gas-boom-scars “Under Colorado’s regulations, oil and gas companies don’t have to file a reclamation plan before they begin drilling, and although the state does require that drill sites be completely reclaimed to reduce erosion, loosen compacted soil, prevent dust storms and control invasions of noxious weeds, there is no mandated timeline for such work to be done nor does the state track such work, and the Denver Post has found that there are 47,505 inactive wells in Colorado, that the area around half of those have yet to be restored, and that work on 72 percent of the unrestored sites has been ongoing for more than five years.” See interactive map for thousands of inactive wells around Colorado. Click the zoom button, and click on the marker for specific information for each site. Make the map full-screen by clicking the arrow icon.

  3. Ed Bernays says:

    The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association is hitting back at environmentalists with a new promotional campaign entitled “Funding Education, Fueling Our Future.” According to a spokesperson for the group it is spending $250,000 to air a new 30-second TV commercial and publish print ads to counter environmental groups who recently got the federal Bureau of Land Management to defer the proposed drilling of five Navajo allotment parcels. Critics say the Association should spend money on cleaner technology instead of self-promotion. http://www.abqjournal.com/565230/news-around-the-region/new-mexico-oil-and-gas-group-to-embark-on-media-campaign.html

  4. Rope choaker says:

    While she was running for office Susana Martinez took almost a million dollars in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, then, after she was elected Governor, her administration created a fictitious inspector allowing almost 500 oil and gas wells to skip required safety inspections. When the Albuquerque Journal uncovered the scandal, 85% of those sites failed inspection. http://www.putnewmexicofirst.org/our-ad-rules Also: “A former top Bureau of Land Management official in New Mexico who later headed an oil and gas trade group accepted improper industry gifts while at the agency and “attempted to obstruct” a federal investigation into his conduct, according to an inspector general’s report that was kept from the public for more than three years. The Interior Department IG’s investigation centered on Steve Henke, who retired as manager of BLM’s Farmington field office in May 2010 to become president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, which lobbies BLM and state regulators on a wide range of energy policy issues.” http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060042442

  5. Wild West says:

    Staffers allege misconduct at BLM’s busiest oil and gas office. https://www.hcn.org/articles/corruption-staffers-allege-misconduct-at-blms-busiest-oil-and-gas-office Complaints to the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General reveal concerns that the Carlsbad Field Office violated environmental and archaeological laws to expedite oil and gas development near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The allegations come amid a massive oil and gas boom in the Permian Basin, which stretches from West Texas into southeast New Mexico.

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