The fate of New Mexico’s Pit Rule delayed to June
By Gwen Lachelt
May 19, 2012
For the last five days our attorney and experts and I sat in a hearing room in Santa Fe because the oil and gas industry wants to gut New Mexico’s common sense Pit Rule.
The Pit Rule was developed with extensive input from oil and gas industry representatives, ranchers and conservation organizations in 2007 to protect New Mexico’s water, soil and public health from toxic drilling and fracking wastes.
Governor Martinez vowed to repeal the Pit Rule during her campaign and now the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association thinks it has the votes on the oil commission to do the deal.
But in five days NMOGA experts did not present any technical information to demonstrate that the Pit Rule was costing them more or less money, that it is OK to build a pit where groundwater is within 25 feet of the surface of the land or that it’s OK to locate a pit 100 feet from a school or livestock well. The bottom line: they want to be able to bury their drilling and fracking wastes anywhere they want. They don’t want to have to haul them away.
Today the Pit Rule requires that companies use pitless (closed-loop) drilling systems where groundwater is at 50 feet and to locate pits 1,000 feet from schools and homes, etc. Companies can get permission to bury their wastes on site if the chloride content is 3,000 milligrams per liter. But industry wants to be able to leave wastes that have a chloride content of 15,000 mg/l. The chloride content of seawater is around 19,000 mg/l. Wastes with such high salt levels have left untold number of pit sites across New Mexico barren. One rancher reported during the hearings this week that nothing has grown on these spots on his ranch in decades.
The ranchers, some of whom drove 7 hours to Santa Fe from southeastern New Mexico to testify in support of keeping the Pit Rule, were given a mere 5 minutes to talk.
One of our experts, a certified public accountant, accredited petroleum accountant, certified mineral manager, certified fraud deterrent analyst and certified forensic financial analyst, is the only person in the United States with her qualifications. She is an accountant for oil and gas companies, mineral owners and has done numerous oil and gas audits for county and state governments. She knows how much it costs operators to drill and maintain wells and she knows how much they make.
But her testimony was interrupted constantly by the oil and gas lawyers – something that is clearly against the oil commission’s own rules – and they were allowed time and again to get away with their disrespectful behavior.
What was really going on was the oil lawyers did not want our expert testimony to see the light of day. Why? Closed-loop drilling systems are saving companies money. Many companies are saving $1.00 per foot using closed-loop drilling than using a pit to dispose of drill cuttings and fracking wastes. And when pits fail, they cost companies a lot of money to try to clean up contaminated soil and groundwater.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
The shale oil and gas drilling boom is marching to New Mexico. These are deep wells that use horizontal hydraulic fracturing and enormous amounts of water. To service these wells, companies want a free ticket to develop enormous pits – lakes really. And the industry does not want to have to build these lakes to any standards or specifications. The pits might hold 10-acre feet of water or 20-acre feet or more. We're talking about pits the size of 6 - 12 olympic-sized swimming pools. And they may be around for years. The odors from these gigantic pits have driven many people from their homes in other states. And there’s nothing to prevent livestock and wildlife from drinking from these pits and birds from landing on them because they can be too large to cover with protective netting. One industry expert said that was OK because nets kill birds, too.
With the shale boom coming to the Land of Enchantment, now is not the time to allow the oil and gas industry to cut corners.
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What can you do?
1). Call Governor Martinez and urge her to keep the Pit Rule. Her number is 505-426-2200. Try to calling during regular working hours so you have a better chance of talking with one of her staff members.
2) Write the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission by June 14 and tell them why the Pit Rule is important. Address your comments to: Jami Bailey, Greg Bloom and Bob Balch (NM Oil Conservation Commissioners) and email to: <email@example.com>, <Jami.Bailey@state.nm.us>,
3) Attend the Pit Rule hearing on June 20, 21 or 22 and testify. You’ll have a whopping 5 minutes to talk but there is a lot to do in Santa Fe! We’ll be meeting at 1220 South Saint Francis Drive in Porter Hall of the Wendell Chino Building.