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NM Oil & Gas Oil Conservation Division’s inadequate enforcement guarantees irresponsible oil and gas development

The New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD) is charged by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Act to “enforce effectively the provisions of this act or any other law of this state relating to the conservation of oil or gas.”

New Mexico has been a major oil-and-gas-producing state since the 1920s. The number of wells producing oil and gas in New Mexico has remained fairly constant over the past few years at approximately 53,000 wells. However, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration the potential for increased shale oil and shale gas development in New Mexico is on the horizon.

Unfortunately, by any reasonable measure, the OCD fails to fulfill its duty to the law, and to the public interest. In particular:

  • inspection capacity is severely limited;
  • violations are arbitrarily assessed;
  • violations are inadequately reported and tracked, and
  • what information exists is opaque to the public;
  • civil fines cannot be administratively assessed by the OCD;
  • fines are rarely issued to companies violating the rules;
  • penalties 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.

Consequently, the public cannot have confidence that oil and gas development is occurring or will occur responsibly in the state of new Mexico.