spills chart

An oil pipeline rupture and the illegal spraying of dirt roads with wastewater from a natural gas operation were among more than 1,800 spills related to oil and gas production in New Mexico in fiscal year 2015, a sharp increase from the number of spills reported the previous year.

Growth in the volume of the spills from FY 2014 far outpaced growth in the volume of resources pumped out of the ground, says a recent Legislative Council Service report. The volume of spilled oil, wastewater and other fluids related to oil production alone increased 61 percent, the report said. Oil production for the same period was up by 23 percent.

Incidents covered in the report ranged from small oil spills to the discharge of thousands of barrels of wastewater, said Beth Wojahn, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. “The overwhelming majority of these releases only require a soil cleanup,” Wojahn said.

The department told the Legislative Finance Committee in its annual “report card” that failing pipelines and aging storage tanks, combined with new drilling and production technology, “might be responsible” for an increased number of spills.

The department also told the committee that inspections had increased by 22 percent over the prior year, and that could account for the higher number of reported spills.

But the committee’s staff said the increase also could “reflect a drop in the quality of inspections.”

Wojahn said, “Every spill in New Mexico requires a cleanup plan to ensure that we protect our environment. From our view, the increase in spills is equivalent with the increase in production.”

She said nearly 98 percent of the 1,853 spills reported in fiscal year 2015 were reported on an Oil Conservation Division form by the company involved. “However, some of these were first noticed by either the public or an inspector; then the responsible party would formally report the spill,” she said.

In one incident, a backhoe operator with the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation hit a pipeline while digging, unleashing about 1,000 barrels of oil before operators could stop the flow. The crew immediately reported the breach to the oil pipeline company, which worked with the state on a cleanup plan.

In another case, the state levied a $2.2 million fine against Houston-based Enterprise Products Operating LLC after the natural gas company used more than 630,000 gallons of wastewater from its New Mexico operations to wet dirt roads on two different occasions. The water exceeded state groundwater standards for some contaminants, the department said. Residents had reported the spraying to the state.

“When a release occurs, the responsible party has to give the [Oil Conservation Division] timely notice, providing certain information, and then clean things up in accordance with a division-approved plan,” Wojahn said.

The state Oil Conservation Division had a staff of 11 inspectors to monitor more than 36,000 wells in 2013. The department on Wednesday did not respond to a request for information on how many inspectors it has currently.

New Mexico’s oil production has boomed in the last couple of years in the southeastern and northwestern portions of the state. In the northwest alone, long known as a top natural gas producer, oil production grew from 79,138 barrels of oil per month in 2011 to an average of 254,097 barrels of oil per month in 2014.

Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or smatlock@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.

(1) comment

Joseph Hempfling

ELEVEN INSPECTORS TO MOITOR 360000 WELLS TELLS THE STORY ! NOTHING MORE NEEDS TO BE SAID. NEW MEXICO IS A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN AND IT WILL. AND NEXT TIME IT MAY BE ONE OF OUR MAJOR DRINKING WATER SOURCES AND THEN WHAT ?? WILL THE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY GET A MERE SLAP ON THE WRIST, WRITE A CHECK AND MOVE ON TO EXPLOIT AND SPOIL SOMEWHERE ELSE. AFTER ALL THAT IS CASINO CAPITALISM' WAY ! AND YOU AND I GET TO PICK UP THE SMELLY PIECES ONCE AGAIN.

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