About 420,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water was spilled in an area about 5 miles east of Carlsbad last fall and the state just recently completed clean-up efforts.
The spill, reported in October 2021, sent a mixture of water and petroleum flowing across U.S. Highway 62/180, impacting nearby homes and a trailer park in the area.
It originated from an illegal surface water management facility, per a notice from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), that was unlicensed and owned by a private landowner.
Remediation work, led by EMNRD’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD) saw the division removing about 391 cubic yards of contaminated soils and other material, while backfilling 513 cubic yards of clean soil and material, and gathering 100 soil samples from the area.
The work cost about $400,000, records show, which was taken from the State’s Oil Reclamation Fund to expedite the process.
EMNRD spokesperson Susan Torres said the Department planned to file litigation to recoup the taxpayer dollars and assess fines on the owner of the site.
She said the OCD was awaiting a finalized environmental analysis and would provide a report to local landowners.
“OCD will be pursuing legal action as necessary to try to refund the Oil Reclamation Fund. The site has been stabilized and the OCD is currently waiting for the final report that includes a site stabilization summary and soil laboratory analysis,” Torres said in emailed comments.
“OCD will provide a copy of the final report to the affected landowners who may choose to pursue their own compensation from the responsible landowner.”
OCD Director Adrienne Sandoval said the Division had to take immediate action to prevent further environmental damage from the incident.
“The release outside Carlsbad put the OCD in a situation where we needed to act quickly to protect human health and the environment and that is exactly what we did,” Sandoval said. “This was a complicated scenario and I’m proud of our team who got the work done efficiently.
Agency calls for more funding after spill
Sandoval called for more funding to help with future remediation work and to fund the Oil Reclamation Fund when a similar response is needed.
“The incident underscored the OCD’s need for additional resources and a healthy Oil Reclamation Fund budget to manage unforeseen cleanups,” she said.
In Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive budget recommendation for fiscal year 2023 – running from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 20230 – released in January ahead of the 2022 budget-focused Legislative Session, she included an about $3.1 million increase in EMNRD’s budget for eight full-time compliance officers at the OCD, along with seven administrative employees and 10 positions focused on oil and gas permits and remediation.
“Our agency’s work protects New Mexico’s environment, which is why investing in the agency now is more important than ever,” said EMNRD Cabinet Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst. “The proposed Executive budget will ensure that our programs are strong and sustainable so they can benefit New Mexicans for years to come.”
House Bill 2, the General Appropriations Act was passed by the New Mexico House of Representatives Thursday on a 56-13 vote and included such funding for the OCD and its efforts to regulate the oil and gas industry in New Mexico, earmarking about $6.7 million to fund employees at the OCD.
“The purpose of the oil and gas conservation program is to assure the conservation and responsible development of oil and gas resources through professional, dynamic regulation,” the bill read.
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-9), sponsor of the bill who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and the interim Legislative Finance Committee said the proposed budget would take advantage of New Mexico’s recent growth in revenue attributed to increased oil and gas activity.
“Our unprecedented revenues mean we have the chance to make a real difference in the lives of New Mexicans, and people are counting on us to work together this session to deliver results,” Lundstrom said. “But we also have to do that smartly and responsibly.”
Rep. Nathan Small (D-36) said the budget included several important investments such as to the OCD to mitigate pollution and transition the state toward “clean energy” development.
“Our budget aims to diversify our state’s economy and create good-paying sustainable jobs for New Mexicans, while also addressing the impacts of climate change and supporting our transition to a clean energy future,” Small said upon the budget’s House passage.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.