FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 2020
Angie Poss, Assistant Commissioner of Communications
State Land Office Oil and Gas Lease Accountability and Enforcement Program Efforts ‘Just the Tip of the Iceberg’
Program meant to encourage accountability and stewardship of state trust land, #DontTrashTheTrust
SANTA FE, NM – In a press conference today, the New Mexico State Land Office announced an historic, agency-wide programmatic approach to accountability and enforcement with regard to oil and gas operations on state trust land to ensure lease holders honor their contractual promise to operate and close out responsibly. Oil and gas leases on state trust land are set by state statute and require compliance with State Land Office rules, including remediating spills and restoring the land to its original condition once a lease has expired (220.127.116.11 – 67 of the New Mexico Administrative Code).
The leases under enhanced review are those which pose an immediate environmental threat to the long-term health of state trust land—state land held in trust for New Mexico’s public schools, hospitals, and universities. The specific accountability measures under scrutiny by the Accountability and Enforcement Program, led by the State Land Office Legal Division, include:
- Spill clean-up of oil, gas, produced water, and other extraction by-products
- Surface reclamation, specifically of site infrastructure including wells, pads, pits, tanks, pipelines, and roads
- Recovering royalty payments for oil and gas production in trespass
To date, the program has resulted in the following actions:
- 9 oil wells plugged (Lea County – 3, Chaves County – 4, Eddy County – 2)
- 9 lease sites reclaimed and cleaned-up, representing over 7,000 acres across Lea, Chaves, and Eddy Counties
- 9 enforcement lawsuits filed against bad actors that refused to take action (6 oil and gas lessees, 2 business lessees, 1 salt water disposal well operator)
“From Day One of my administration, I have promised a culture shift in the Land Office to hold industry accountable for the clean-up of your state trust land. This Program represents just the tip of the iceberg in what will be a long process to do just that,” Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard said. “The protection of our land, water, air, and wildlife is the primary focus of these efforts. The restoration of over 7,000 acres of state trust land is a huge win. The level of activity in the Permian Basin results in far too much abandoned infrastructure, contamination, and debris – and we are doing everything we can, as fast as we can, in order to protect these areas so that they can benefit future generations.”
The Program is also auditing business leases, salt water disposal easements, and other non-oil and gas related instruments for compliance. Work on these efforts began with site inspections by field staff beginning in early 2020.
“The Accountability and Enforcement Program is coordinated by the Legal Division, which I oversee, but it is truly an agency-wide operation,” State Land Office General Counsel Ari Biernoff added. “We have field staff on the ground inspecting sites for contamination, along with staff conducting audits of sites via high frequency satellite imagery, and then bringing that back to our team of lawyers and experts for enforcement of contractual obligations.
“We are using all of the tools and data at our disposal in order to hold companies to account in hopes of encouraging industry to do what is right by this land and what is right for our environment. The majority of operators are acting responsibly but for those that aren’t or haven’t, we are being proactive in order to ensure they return the land back to its original state for the benefit of the citizens of New Mexico and for the beneficiary institutions that we support.”
Under the leadership of Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard, the New Mexico State Land Office has seen back-to-back years of revenue over $1 billion. Over 13 million acres of state trust land are leased for a variety of uses, including ranching and farming, renewable energy, business development, mineral development, and outdoor recreation. The money earned from leasing activity supports 22 beneficiaries – New Mexico public schools, seven universities and colleges, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, three hospital, water and land conservation projects, and public building construction and repair.