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New rules finally outlaw oil and gas industry spills in New Mexico
“These new rules, which were supported by New Mexico officials and even the oil and gas industry, will provide a powerful and much-needed incentive for companies to prevent spills from happening in the first place,” said Daniel Timmons, Staff Attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “Importantly, these new rules ensure that New Mexico’s clean air and water, communities, and public lands are better protected from the dangers of the oil and gas industry.”
The New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission voted unanimously today to revise its regulations to expressly prohibit releases of oil, gas, waste, and other contaminants during oil and gas drilling, fracking, and production. The vote came after a day-long hearing on June 9, during which members of the public, including school children, spoke out in support of the new rules.
Oil and gas industry spills have been a chronic and ongoing problem in New Mexico. In the face of booming extraction, companies have reported frequent releases of oil, toxic liquid waste (known as “produced water”), gas, and other harmful substances. According to state oil regulators, more than 12,000 releases were reported between 2010 and 2020. In 2020, more than 1,100 oil and toxic waste spills were reported, an average of over three spills daily.
These releases have contaminated air and water and directly harmed people and communities. A toxic waste spill in southeast New Mexico in early 2020 drenched a family’s home and livestock, forcing them to euthanize animals and deal with lingering health effects.
While oil and gas companies have been required to report spills to state regulators, they were not deemed illegal. Under previous rules, a company could spill and still be in compliance with the rules.
“The previous rules effectively condoned dangerous oil and gas industry spills, providing no reason for companies to take precautions and prevent spills from happening in the first place,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Thankfully, this glaring loophole is now closed, ensuring New Mexico and New Mexicans will no longer be vulnerable to the devastating effects of oil and waste spills.”
The New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission’s vote today came in response to a joint petition filed by WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division. This petition was ultimately supported by the oil and gas industry and other non-governmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Pueblo Action Alliance, Amigos Bravos, Citizens Caring for the Future, and Native American Voters Alliance Education Project.
“This was a truly consensus outcome, with all parties in agreement that banning oil and gas industry releases is squarely in the interest of the health and prosperity of New Mexico,” said Daniel Timmons. “We look forward to further collaboration with regulators, the oil and gas industry, and our partners working together for a better world as we ensure health, safety, and the environment come first in New Mexico.”