January 13, 2015

Another look at New Mexico’s lack of oil inspectors


A constant stream of heavy truck traffic rumbles past HollyFrontier’s Navajo Refinery in Artesia. The facility processes up to 100,000 barrels per day of crude oil, most of it pumped from New Mexico and Texas. Photo: Margaret Wright

In part two of her two-part story on the effects of oil and gas in the New Mexico Oil Patch, Margaret Wright mentioned the need for additional oil and gas inspectors.

Jim Winchester, the spokesman for the state’s Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Division (EMNRD), emailed Wright about the lack of funding for oil and gas inspectors in the state.

From Margaret’s story:

The Environment Department is asking the Legislature for a budget increase this session, he says. OCD is also requesting money to add hire another nine inspectors, “to provide increases in the number of inspections on active wells, plugging wells releases, remediation of spill sites and overall environmental compliance. This response includes all counties in New Mexico.”

She went on to note that there are just 14 inspectors for the tens of thousands of drilling facilities in the state.

Fronteras spoke to one of the overworked inspectors, Ron Harvey. Harvey is responsible for 8,000 wells and that he cannot always inspect one each year.

“A lot of the time, to tell you the truth, I don’t write them up for well signs because we don’t have enough people where we can do follow-up,” Harvey said. Not having a well sign is considered a minor violation — one among thousands that OCD’s 14 inspectors must manage. When an operator breaks the rules, inspectors can send a letter of violation.

“There are some guys out there that just, you know, you’ve sent them an LOV and they’ll just wad it up and throw it in the trash can,” Harvey said. “They don’t care.”

OCD will be seeking funding for nine more inspector positions in the upcoming legislative session.

One of the recurrent complaints from those in the area is that the money that comes from drilling for oil and gas just doesn’t come back to the area and is instead sent to other parts of the state.

The story from Fronteras is part of a four-part series. The other three parts are:

Oil And Gas Regulation In New Mexico Outdated

New Mexico’s Oil Regulators Have Limited Enforcement Tools

New Mexico Lawmaker Faces Challenge In Strengthening Oil Regulation