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7:00am — Judge ‘Inclined’ To Grant Injunction Over Carlsbad Brine Well

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Company given till Monday to answer city’s demands for monetary compensation.

State District Judge Jane Shuler-Gray heard arguments from the city of Carlsbad why a local company, I&W Inc., should reimburse the city for all expenses it has incurred to date in studying a possible brine well collapse on the city’s south side, but didn’t grant the injunction just yet, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

“I’m inclined to grant an injunction,” said Shuler-Gray, who said she would give I&W’s attorney Phil Brewer until Monday to answer the city’s arguments, the Current-Argus said.

The city filed a lawsuit in January against the oilfield services company, alleging the company’s operation of the brine well and its failure to mitigate a potential collapse was a public nuisance that could result in irreparable harm, according to an earlier report by The Associated Press.

The company halted operations at the site last year, the AP said.

An injunction would require that I&W reimburse Carlsbad for all expenses it has paid on the project to date, begin paying to monitor the site, pay approximately $150,000 for a study to determine the shape of the underground cavern and pay to fill in the cavern to avoid collapse, the Current-Argus said.

Brewer, who defended I&W by phone told the judge he’d had very little time to prepare a case because he’d taken on a case just a few days ago, said the company has operated within the regulations set by the state Oil Conservation Division and hadn’t received a notice of violation until last November, the paper reported.

“I&W did precisely what the OCD said they needed to do,” Brewer told the judge, adding that he believed an injunction was not the proper vehicle for seeking monetary compensation, but should only be granted in cases of irreparable harm, the Current-Argus said.

Albuquerque attorney Pete Domenici Jr., who represents Carlsbad, said the potential collapse of the cavern threatens two major highways, a feed store, a church, an 84-tenant trailer park and the Carlsbad Irrigation Canal, the paper reported.

In addition, if the well were to collapse, brine from the well would contaminate irrigation and drinking water, Domenici told the judge.

The state Oil Conservation Division in January issued a compliance order seeking a $2.6 million civil penalty against I&W, along with an unspecified remediation plan, saying the brine well’s location means “a collapse has serious potential for injury or loss of life and property damage,” the Albuquerque Journal’s Rene Romo reported in a background piece this month.

City and state officials are now scrambling for a plan, which some say could cost tens of millions of dollars, to stave off a collapse, the Journal reported.

The state is trying to force I&W to shoulder the costs of continued monitoring and to reimburse the OCD $563,000 for costs already incurred for the monitoring and early warning system, the Journal said.

But Carlsbad City Councilor Ned Elkins told the judge that the OCD walked away from the brine well conundrum and left it financially in the hands of the city, the Current-Argus said.

The city of Carlsbad and Eddy County have declared a state of emergency over the possible brine well collapse, the paper reported.

“The OCD has been asleep at the switch,” Judge Shuler-Gray said. “Now the city is stuck taking care of it. The city is, in a sense, an innocent bystander.”