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SANTA FE, NM — Yesterday, groups working to protect New Mexico’s water resources and wildlife asked the state Supreme Court to review the Martinez Administration’s “Pit Rule”. The Rule governs the storage and disposal of wastes at oil and gas drilling pits in New Mexico.

The petition for a writ of certiorari was filed by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) on behalf of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. The public interest groups have been working on the issue since before the Pit Rule was first adopted in 2008, after a lengthy public process. The petition asks the state’s highest court to review a decision handed down by the state Court of Appeals in February upholding the amended Pit Rule.

In 2013, the Martinez-appointed Oil Conservation Commission, despite widespread public opposition, eliminated nearly every substantive provision on the Pit Rule at the behest of the oil and gas industry. See Pit Rule Fact Sheet.

In their petition, the groups ask for the Supreme Court to set aside the 2013 amendments that eviscerated the 2008 Pit Rule, based on the legal arguments that:

  • The Commission did not have authority to weaken the Pit Rule for purely economic reasons benefiting the oil and gas industry.
  • The Commission failed to explain the reasons for its abrupt change of policy in 2013, despite the Commissioners hearing nearly identical testimony as presented to the Commissioners who adopted the 2008 Pit Rule.
  • The Oil Conservation Commission violated the Separation of Powers Doctrine when it amended the Pit Rule while it was under appeal in state district court.

“Pits” store liquid and solid wastes created by drilling for oil and gas; they are located at or near the oil or gas wells. As written in 2008, the New Mexico Pit Rule was designed to protect soil and groundwater from toxic contaminants including arsenic, benzene, chromium and lead (see Pit Pollution: A Backgrounder on the Issues, with a New Mexico Case Study by the Earthworks for a list of contaminants commonly found in pits). As amended in 2013, the Pit Rule does little to protect our state’s water, public health or wildlife.

“The state of New Mexico is legally and by definition bound to serve all New Mexicans,” said Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project Director Bruce Baizel. He continued, “In eviscerating the Pit Rule, the Oil Conservation Commission forgot who they worked for. It isn’t the oil and gas industry.”

“All New Mexicans, including the corporate entities that benefit from our state's natural resources, share a responsibility to be good citizens for our state's water and public lands,” says Judy Calman, Staff Attorney at the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “That's why we're asking the Supreme Court to revert to the 2008 Pit Rule, which was protective of water, people and wildlife.” 

“There are serious legal flaws in the decision handed down by the state Court of Appeals when it upheld the Rule,” says Eric Jantz, Staff Attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. “The Supreme Court now has an excellent opportunity to send a strong message that politics don’t belong in rulemakings, and to affirm that our state’s regulatory decision-makers do not have the authority to change rules solely for the economic benefit of an industry to the detriment of other New Mexicans.”

The Supreme Court will notify the petitioners if it will review the case. See NMELC case page.

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