FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 19, 2023
Joey Keefe, Assistant Commissioner of Communications
State Land Office Enforcement Efforts Result in Plugging of 200 Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells
Clean-up costs shouldered entirely by industry, not taxpayers
SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard announced today that more than 200 abandoned oil and gas wells on state lands have been plugged at no cost to New Mexico’s taxpayers since the State Land Office launched its historic Accountability and Enforcement Program in late 2020. Commissioner Garcia Richard created the program to ensure oil and gas producers and others that use state lands abide by lease terms and state rules requiring that lands be appropriately cleaned up at the companies’ expense. The program – which is entirely separate from recent federal spending to plug orphaned wells – has resulted in a nearly 20% decrease in the number of abandoned wells on state trust lands.
“Our Accountability and Enforcement program keeps plugging away, compelling companies to pick up the messes they create on state lands and ensuring New Mexico’s taxpayers aren’t stuck with the bill,” said Commissioner Garcia Richard. “In just a few years this program has proven that we can require companies to clean up after themselves and still deliver billions of dollars in record revenues for our schools and other institutions. Our team has made historic strides in bringing environmental compliance to the forefront of our efforts. We’ve created a new satellite imagery program to identify spills and trespass, ramped up our royalty auditing to ensure what is due is what is actually paid, and we have established a new office staffed with environmental experts to focus on remediation and reclamation efforts. These tools will allow us to better manage our lands and hold industry accountable moving forward.”
The State Land Office regularly reviews oil and gas operations that may pose a serious environmental threat to state lands. The specific measures developed by the Accountability and Enforcement Program, led by the State Land Office Legal Division in collaboration with other key divisions, include:
- Spill clean-up of oil, gas, produced water, and other extraction by-products
- Removal and/or surface reclamation of oil and gas infrastructure including wells, pads, disposal pits, storage tanks, pipelines, and lease roads
- Recovering royalty payments for oil and gas production in trespass
The State Land Office contacts producers first to give them an opportunity to plug inactive wells, remediate contamination, and take other measures that may be required on a voluntary basis. Lessees and operators that fail to meaningfully respond are subject to further enforcement, including litigation.
“We will continue using all available tools to bring companies into compliance so the state lands that fund our public education system are treated with proper care and any damage is promptly restored” said Ari Biernoff, General Counsel at the State Land Office. “While many lessees and operators act responsibly, this program exists for those who don’t – so that our state lands are protected for future generations and continue earning revenue for our schools.”
“The Accountability and Enforcement program is a perfect complement to the efforts of our Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division to further incorporate compliance with all lease terms into our standard operating practices,” said Greg Bloom, Assistant Commissioner of Mineral Resources. “This commitment to enforcement has not been a hinderance to our mandate to generate revenue. We continue to see record-breaking annual royalties of billions of dollars from oil and gas production on our state lands while we increase pressure on the oil and gas industry to simply meet their lease requirements and abide by New Mexico’s laws and regulations.”
Under this program, the agency also reviews business leases, salt water disposal easements, and other instruments covering a variety of industries for compliance. The Commissioner has also created the agency’s first-ever Environmental Compliance Office, which is focused on remediation and reclamation issues on state lands throughout New Mexico.
Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard has overseen the New Mexico State Land Office since 2019. In that time the agency has raised more than $5 billion for New Mexico public schools, hospitals, and universities. 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 State Land Office has a dual mandate to use state trust land to financially support vital public institutions, while simultaneously working to protect the land for future generations.