NEW MEXICO STRENGTHENS RULES TO REDUCE CONTAMINATION FROM OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY WASTES
On October 19, 2006, after more than a year of stakeholder meetings, hearings and political pressure, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) adopted revisions to the state's surface waste facility rules for oil and gas wastes. The industry spent $500,000 in attorney time and hired experts to try to weaken, delay, and ultimately, attempt to eradicate the rules politically. The Oil Conservation Division, New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water (primarily Don Neeper), Controlled Recovery, Inc. (a landfarm operator) and OGAP pushed back to get the rules strengthened and adopted.
Download the OCC hearing summary (R-12460b) and the revised surface waste facility rules.
The new rules set out four types of surface waste management facilities, with rules for each type:
- Landfills: "permanent" disposal site for oilfield wastes that are either non-hazardous or exempt from Subtitle C of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
- Centralized facilities: a site operated by an oil and gas operator or its affiliate to manage wastes resulting from its own operations.
- Commercial landfarms: waste treatment sites, e.g., to bioremediate hydrocarbons
- Small landfarms: short-term sites (up to three years), where small quantities of soils contaminated with hydrocarbons are treated.
A number of provisions in the New Mexico rules were strengthened. These include rules pertaining to:
PERMIT DENIAL: A permit may be denied if it may be detrimental to freshwater, public health, safety or the environment. It also may be denied if the applicant is a "bad actor," i.e., has a history of violations of permit conditions, etc.
- No landfill may be located where groundwater is within 100 feet.
- No landfarm may be located where groundwater is within 50 feet.
- No small landfarm may be located where groundwater is within 50 feet.
- None of the facilities may be located within 200 feet of a watercourse, 500 feet of a wetland or 500 feet of a residence, school, etc.
- Only one small landfarm is allowed per section, and it must be within 1 mile of an oil or gas well/facility.
- All tanks 8 feet in diameter or larger must be netted or screened.
- There are specific monitoring requirements for detection of leaks.
CLOSURE STANDARDS: Landfarms and small landfarms have specific numeric closure standards for total petroleum hydrocarbons and chlorides (500 ppm). If the operator cannot meet the closure standards, the contaminated soil must be moved to a landfill.
The OCC Wins on Appeal!
The Oil Conservation Commission won an appeal in First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe, State of New Mexico against sixteen oil and gas companies that challenged the adoption of revised rules regulating surface waste management in oil and gas operations. "Based on this Court's analysis of the whole record and of Appellants' arguments, the Oil Conservation Commission's Order No. R-12460-B in Case No. 13586, repealing existing rules and adopting new rules governing surface waste management in oil and gas operations, is supported by substantial evidence in the record, is not arbitrary and capricious, and is in accordance with the law and within the scope of the Oil Conservation Commission's authority," stated Daniel A. Sanchez, District Judge, Division VII in his February 26, 2008, decision.
NEW MEXICO TO CONSIDER REVISIONS TO RULES GOVERNING OIL AND GAS WASTE PITS
A process was initiated in 2006 to revise New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission Rules related to oil- and gas-field pits. The state will be releasing the new and improved pit rule in April 2008. Click here for updates on the New Mexico Pit Rule.
The New Mexico Oil Conservation Division has detected and documented more than 700 hundred incidents of groundwater contamination from oil and gas facilities across the state. The data can be downloaded from the OCD web site (click here to download a pdf version or an Excel spreadsheet version).
For more information:
 News Release by The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, March 3, 2008.
Link to OGAP web pages on:
- Oil and Gas Waste Disposal (including pits)
- General information on Pit Pollution
Read the OGAP publication Pit Pollution - Backgrounder on the Issues with a New Mexico Case Study.
Visit OGAP's web page on groundwater contamination from New Mexico oil and gas facilities and pits.