Decision on changes to “Pit Rule” expected this week
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The “pit rule,” one of the most divisive and debated regulations in New Mexico, might be drastically altered this week as the state’s Oil Conservation Commission is going over proposed changes line by line.
On Monday morning (Sept. 24) in Santa Fe, commission members began the long and often tedious process of reviewing the regulation and possible amendments to it as environmentalists who support the rule and oil and gas industry officials who want regulations eased closely watched the proceedings.
The 3-person commission is expected to get through the 76-page document by Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.
There’s plenty at stake.
Environmental groups have defended the “pit rule” since it was adopted by the division in 2008 when Bill Richardson, who supported the plan, was governor as a necessary measure to protect ground water and reduce pollution when oil and gas companies drill wells.
On the other side, energy groups have complained the rule has hindered economic growth in the state — a stance backed by current Gov. Susana Martinez — and the regulations are often unnecessary.
The commission has been hearing testimony about the “pit rule” since May, when lawyers from both sides argued their case before the division, which passed the regulation on a 3-0 vote four years ago.
Since then, two new members of the board have been installed. The one member who remains from 2008 is Jami Bailey, who was appointed by Gov. Martinez and now serves as the Oil Conservation Division’s director. It takes a majority of the commission members to adopt any changes.
The regulation is called the “pit rule” because it requires producers to deposit the waste and mud that’s extracted from the earth during drilling to be placed in a pit lined with protective coating. In some cases, operators also have to build enclosed tanks to hold produced water and chemicals. The rules also ban pits if they’re close to water wells and require oil and gas producers to haul the waste materials to a different site for disposal.
“We’ve lived with the rule for four years,” Bruce Gantner of ConocoPhillips testified back in May. “We’re not trying to abolish the rule … we want to make it simpler and easier to comply with.”
Environmental advocate Gwen Lachelt of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project told Capitol Report New Mexico at the time that it’s “essential” for the state to uphold the pit rules as written in 2008 and when asked if her side will take the case to court if the division fundamentally changes the pit rule, she said, “Absolutely.”
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Bill Richardson, Bruce Gantner, Capitol Report New Mexico, ConocoPhillips, Gwen Lachelt, Jami Bailey, Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Oil Conservation Division, pit rule, Susana Martinez