Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New Mexico set to loosen waste-disposal rules for drilling as other states tighten up

Oil and gas officials in New Mexico are going against the national grain of tightening regulations at the request of the industry, Mike Soraghan of Energy and Environment News reports. Under the state's "pit rule," which was instated in 2008, drillers must use steel tanks for waste disposal instead of open pits where groundwater is near the surface. But drillers say the rule adds as much as $250,000 to the cost of drilling a well, driving many out of state where regulations are looser. (E&E photo: Waste pit in Midland, Tex.)

The industry wants the rule changed, and put $1 million into the 2010 campaign of Gov. Susana Martinez, who vowed to roll it back. She appointed two of three members to the state's Oil Conservation Commission, which is meeting to make changes to the rule. Environmentalists and ranchers are fighting to keep the pit rule in place, saying that water and soil will be contaminated without it. But, it's a fight they expect to lose, Soraghan reports.

Many states are banning waste pits altogether, and most require liners in pits. But in Texas, where many New Mexico drillers go to avoid the pit rule, there are no liner requirements. Many officials in New Mexico want its rules loosened so drillers will come back and boost the economy. But statistics don't show that drillers mass-migrated out of the state because of the rule, Soraghan reports. The number of drilling rigs actually increased after the rule was enacted. He writes that the industry is more upset that the pit rule prevented it from expanding large-scale hydraulic fracturing in the state. (Read more)

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