Hearings resume on pit rule for oil and gas industry

Aug 27, 2012

Hearings resume on Aug. 28 on drilling wastes generated by the oil and gas industry. At issue are rules put in place under the previous administration governing thousands of waste pits and underground storage tanks.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico have tried to modify the rules governing pits since they were approved in 2008 by former Gov. Bill Richardson. Under the rules, oil drillers must use heavy liners in pits that hold oil field waste. In some cases, they must install closed tanks and take waste offsite. Industry advocates have argued the rules have added huge costs to their operations and hampered production in the Permian Basin.

Wally Drangmeister, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said his organization is not trying to get rid of the pit rules.

"We are proposing very specific highly technical changes that we think if enacted would be protective of groundwater, human health and the environment but also reduce needless costs that would make the oil and gas industry more competitive with surrounding states," he said.

Those changes include being able to bury wastes onsite more easily. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center this week will present engineer Kathy Martin at the hearings, who will argue changes sought by industry, including temporary pits, will harm groundwater. Eric Jantz, staff attorney for the law center, said the existing rules have preserved the state’s environmental resources.

“We don’t want to go backwards. We want to keep the protections we have." he added

The state’s Oil Conservation Division is slated to meet in late September and make a final decision on whether to keep the current pit rule.

The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. on Aug. 28 at Porter Hall in the Wendell Chino Building, 1220 South Saint Francis Dr. in Santa Fe.