NM Supreme Court asked to review rule governing oil and gas wastes

In June of 2013, Governor Martinez’s Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) all but wholly adopted the oil and gas industry’s amendments to the Pit Rule, a critical rule that governs oil and gas operation waste pits.

The weakened rule puts our already scarce water supplies, and our families who depend on them, at risk. In late March, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center and their clients, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NMWA) asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to review a decision handed down by the state Court of Appeals in February upholding the amended Pit Rule. Unfortunately, the state Supreme Court declined to review the decision, leaving the weakened Pit Rule on the books.

History of the Pit Rule

In 2008, the OCC adopted the Pit Rule because the commission found that over 400 oil and gas waste pits had contaminated the groundwater. The com m ission and the public realized that the prior regulation governing oil and gas wastes was not

NM Supreme Court asked to review rule governing oil and gas wastes (continued from page 12)

working.  The 2008 Pit Rule protected water, landowners, and the environment from the waste generated in oil and gas operations. The rule also protected public health because nine out of 10 New Mexicans depend on groundwater for their drinking water.

The OCC adopted the weakened rule after hearing the same testimony the commission had heard before, which resulted in a strong, clear Pit Rule on the books in 2008. Why did the Commission hear this same testimony four years later and come up with a vastly different rule?

That’s what New Mexicans like you and me, our friends at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) and their clients at the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NMWA) want to know.

New Mexicans made it clear that they support the protective 2008 Pit Rule. In 2012, amidst hearings to consider the Pit Rule amendments, CVNM Education Fund and SouthWest Organizing Project delivered over 12,000 petitions from across the state to the Governor’s office in support of protecting our strong Pit Rule.

“This Commission was created to regulate the oil and gas industry and protect the environment – not protect industry profits,” said Eric Jantz, NMELC staff attorney.

In fact, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Act does not allow the OCC to consider economic factors when creating rules. What other reason could there be for the Commission to remove most of the Pit Rule’s protections of public health and ground water resources, even as they proclaimed the success of the rule?

It’s time for New Mexico’s decision- makers to put what’s right for people above the profits of corporations.

By Liliana Castillo, Communications Director