District court judge allows industry groups to intervene in oil and gas lawsuit

A state district court judge approved a request by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico to intervene in a lawsuit brought against state officials and agencies that could result in significant changes to the oil and gas industry. New Mexico First Judicial Court Judge Matthew Wilson ruled that the industry association could be significantly […]

District court judge allows industry groups to intervene in oil and gas lawsuit

A state district court judge approved a request by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico to intervene in a lawsuit brought against state officials and agencies that could result in significant changes to the oil and gas industry.

New Mexico First Judicial Court Judge Matthew Wilson ruled that the industry association could be significantly impacted by the outcomes of the case and that its interests were not adequately represented by the state defendants. 

The plaintiffs allege that New Mexico agencies and officials have violated the state’s constitutional duty to protect residents from pollution created by the oil and gas industry.

Gail Evans, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who is representing the plaintiffs, argued that the IPANM does not have the legal standing to intervene. 

“This case targets the action and inaction of the state and the harms that the state has caused plaintiffs by authorizing oil and gas production. Plaintiffs have not sued private companies, or private actors because private actors cannot violate the constitution,” Evans said

She argued that the IPANM does not have substantial interest in the case and therefore should not be allowed to intervene. Additionally, she said allowing them to intervene would delay the case.

Evans further argued that the IPANM’s interest aligns with the state’s interest and therefore could be represented by the state.

“They are raising the same defenses that the state is raising,” Evans said.

She argued that intervenors must have their own defenses to assert and cannot piggyback on the state’s defenses.

But Jeff Wechsler, an attorney representing IPANM, argued that the IPANM should be allowed to intervene because the outcomes will lead to a complete overhaul of the existing regulatory framework and that will have a direct impact on the association.

He gave the example of the plaintiffs’ request that produced water—a byproduct of oil and gas production—be treated as hazardous waste. Wechsler said that would upend existing industry practices for disposing of produced water.

Wechsler further argued that the state does not represent the IPANM interests.

Additionally, Wilson ruled that the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce may also intervene in the case.

“Plaintiffs allege that the state defendants have silenced the voices of critical stakeholders in considering and adopting oil and gas development policy. And yet that is precisely what plaintiffs attempt to do to the Chamber’s members who are no less critical and those policy questions and the plaintiffs themselves,” Mark Barron, an attorney representing the Chamber, argued.

As a political advocacy group, Barron argued that the Chamber has spent years working to help formulate the existing regulatory framework.

He further argued that the Chamber has unique insight and expertise that it can provide to the case.

Wilson heard the Chamber’s motion to intervene following his decision regarding IPANM’s motion. He asked Barron why the Chamber’s interests cannot be represented by IPANM or the state defendants.

“There are no other parties who can provide the same sort of expertise with respect to what the impact of oil and gas development has on the healthcare industry, the hospitality industry, real estate, transportation and all sorts of industries that are important to New Mexico and New Mexicans,” Barron said.

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