New Mexico’s Moving Ahead

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In 2012 Earthworks published an assessment of New Mexico’s oversight of oil and gas operations based on public information requests of the state’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD) enforcement records. It found:

  • Inspection capacity is severely limited
  • Violations are arbitrarily assessed and inadequately reported and tracked
  • Civil fines cannot be administratively assessed by the OCD
  • Fines are rarely issued to companies violating the rules

Fines are inadequate to punish or prevent irresponsible behavior by oil and gas operators – or even to cover the state’s costs of fining a violator.

In 2019, New Mexico is experiencing an unprecedented boom in energy production. Shale oil development in the Permian Basin of southeastern New Mexico has catapulted the state to the third largest onshore oil producer in the nation. Alongside that rapid increase in development comes more pollution and a dramatic rise in spills of chemicals and waste. In fact, the total number of oil and gas-related spills increased nearly 100% since 2008 and more than 500% since 2000.

Elected officials have so far ignored these challenges, even while welcoming more oil and gas development. Currently OCD, which issues permits and oversees the industry, lacks the clear authority to issue fines and hold polluters accountable, and the agency’s enforcement resources are woefully inadequate.

This report, an update of the 2012 investigation, outlines the essential improvements needed to allow OCD to more effectively fulfill its mandate to prevent the unnecessary waste of oil and gas resources and protect human health and environment.

Key Recommendations

The following actions are needed to protect public health and environment, enforce state regulations, and deter oil and gas violations in the future:

  1. Restore OCD’s authority to assess civil penalties for violations of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Act
  2. Strengthen OCD enforcement capacity with more budgetary resources and well-paid, well-trained inspectors
  3. Establish consistency and transparency in the assessment of violations and penalties, and communication of oil and gas spills