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Stephanie Garcia Richard, Commissioner of Public Lands

State of New Mexico


May 27, 2021


Angie Poss, Assistant Commissioner of Communications


Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard Files Lawsuit to Restore Damaged State Land in Chaves County

Suit is latest in the State Land Office’s ongoing Accountability and Enforcement Program

SANTA FE, NM – Today the New Mexico State Land Office filed its 17th lawsuit in its ongoing Accountability and Enforcement Program. The Accountability and Enforcement Program, launched in November 2020, is a historic, agency-wide programmatic effort being undertaken to ensure oil and gas companies, and other lease holders, honor their contractual promise to responsibly operate their leases and properly clean up the leased lands when they are finished

The suit filed today in the First Judicial District Court seeks damages against a former State Land Office oil and gas lessee, Northstar Operating Company, and its well operators Cano Petro of New Mexico and Cross Border Resources, for their failure to clean up an abandoned lease site on almost 1,000 acres of state land in Chaves County. This lease is part of a much larger area of defunct oil and gas operations on state, federal, and private land called the Cato Unit. The State Land Office is taking this action because the companies have not honored their obligations to the state land trust, which include:

  • Plugging at least 11 oil wells abandoned by the defendants
  • Full restoration of state trust land where the leases were located including the full removal of infrastructure such as well pads, roads, and equipment, trash, and debris, and cleanup of any contamination associated with the site   
  • The payment of penalties for trespassing on state trust land since the leases expired in March 2019

“I take my responsibility to steward the state trust land in my care very seriously, and that is why we are continuing to take companies to court when they shirk their legal responsibility to clean up the land,” Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard said. “While many companies are working with us, our legal efforts thus far have proven successful and we will continue pursuing legal action when companies walk away without cleaning up.”

Oil and gas leases on state trust land are set by state statute and require compliance with State Land Office and other applicable state rules including plugging wells, remediating spills and sites, including the clearing of infrastructure, trash, and debris, along with restoring the land to its original condition once a lease has expired ( – 67 of the New Mexico Administrative Code).

View Related Documents

Court filing: Commissioner vs Northstar Operating Company et al.

Field report: Photo Exhibits (Photo Credit NMSLO Staff – Mat Hagman)

Aerial satellite map: Cato Unit – unplugged well locations (NMSLO GIS Staff – Christian Smith using Planet Labs)

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 hospitals, water and land conservation projects, and public building construction and repair.