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State Land Office holds oil and gas companies responsible to clean abandoned sites

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – With New Mexico still seeing record oil and gas extraction, the New Mexico State Land Office said they are making more progress in the work to hold companies accountable for what they’ve left behind.

“We hope that companies are getting the word that this is a requirement that we are serious, that we mean business, and we’ll get better compliance,” said New Mexico commissioner of Public Lands, Stephanie Garcia Richard.  

Overseeing the state’s public lands, Garcia Richard said New Mexico is seeing more accountability in the work to stop what she calls an environmental hazard.

Now four years into the Accountability and Enforcement Program, the commissioner said around half of the roughly 1,000 abandoned oil wells on state lands have been filled in. “It was the first time that a State Land Commissioner had put into place a very comprehensive program to get at some of the issues on state land with particularly oil and gas development,” said Garcia Richard.

The work includes plugging wells, cleaning up spills, and removing old equipment at the sites. “The vast majority of companies we work with understand their requirements. They understand that cleanup is part of their lease terms.”

The land office’s program is separate from recent federal funding for this type of work, or the reclamation funds raised by taxes on oil companies.

“Through oil and gas industry efforts, coupled with federal dollars and the Reclamation Fund, our members are proud to help return our lands to their native state, conserve New Mexico’s natural beauty, and not create a burden for taxpayers. The state utilizes taxes collected from oil and gas and federal dollars to plug wells that are not addressed by operators. New Mexico oil and gas companies plug hundreds of wells annually, and the Reclamation Fund allows us to increase those efforts in partnership with the state.”

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association

Garcia Richard said their program has now saved taxpayers $45 million in cleanup costs with private companies bearing the price of clean-up. Each well can cost more than $100,000 to address. “We do not want public dollars to be used to clean up these messes if there are oil and gas companies responsible and able to do that work.”

The land commissioner said this work ensures companies are following environmental requirements and state laws. She added it makes sure state lands are protected for future generations. “Some of the most egregious emitters of methane are actually wells that are no longer in production, but still have not been properly plugged.”

Around 550 oil and gas wells on state lands still need to be plugged. If a company is not complying, the state land office said it will take them to court.

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