The San Juan Citizens Alliance and Western Environmental Law Center applaud the decision by Gov. Lujan Grisham’s New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission (NMOCC) to set a new hearing regarding a contentious and rushed Martinez-era rule doubling of the oil and gas drilling density allowed in the 1.3 million-acre Blanco-Mesaverde Gas Pool in Rio Arriba and San Juan Counties. The rehearing will take place on May 9, 2019. Pending the rehearing, the Martinez-era rule is suspended.
In scheduling the rehearing and suspending the rule, the commission exercised its expansive authority to protect the public interest and ensure that decisions are transparent and inclusive of the public.
In a positive, precedent-setting move, commissioners are also requiring Hilcorp to provide robust public notice in advance of the May re-hearing. Hilcorp will be required to notify federal land managers, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Navajo Nation and impacted Navajo Chapters, and the public. “This is a deeply public matter with broad implications for northwestern New Mexico’s communities” said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “We appreciate the Commission’s recognition of the critical importance of notice to impacted communities so that those communities can provide their feedback to the NMOCC.”
Over 90 percent of the San Juan Basin’s federal public lands are already leased for oil and gas development and struggling under the weight of 40,000 existing oil and gas wells. These wells are the chief contributor to the largest cloud of methane pollution in the U.S., covering 2,500 square miles. This methane cloud harms our climate and reflects the loss of vast energy resources and public royalties that support key public services, including New Mexico’s public schools. Doubling new drilling activity across a 1.3 million-acre region risks public health, New Mexico’s treasured landscapes, as well as increased methane waste the climate and our communities can’t afford.
Last year, Texas-based Hilcorp Energy, which already operates over 5,000 oil and gas wells, sought to double the number of new and re-completed wells allowed in the Blanco-Mesaverde Gas Pool from four wells to eight on every 320 acres. NMOCC, at Hilcorp’s request, twice denied San Juan Citizens Alliance’s request to participate in that process as a formal party seeking to protect the public interest and raise public health and environmental concerns.
“Hilcorp shot itself in the foot by aggressively trying to silence the voice of public interest watchdog groups who work with impacted communities,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “But it’s a new day in New Mexico, and the oil and gas industry will no longer be able to write its own rules and subordinate the public interest to benefit corporate fossil fuel profits.”
The May 9 rehearing is the responsible path forward as it will provide real transparency and true public representation. It is an early opportunity for the new administration and all New Mexicans to look carefully at the full range of benefits and impacts from oil and gas development and set policies—here, well spacing and density rules—that reflect the whole public interest. It is also an opportunity for the NMOCC, under new leadership, to heal the damage done by previous leadership and re-establish trust and credibility with the people of New Mexico.