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Updated at 8:40am — Sinkhole Prompts State To Rethink Drilling Rules

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After brine well collapse near Artesia, oilfield trucking firm shuts down similar well in Carlsbad.

A massive sinkhole that developed southeast of Artesia last week has prompted state officials to rethink rules governing the use of brine wells in oil and gas production, The New Mexican reported.

The sinkhole near Artesia grew to 300 to 400 feet in diameter last week, said state Oil Conservation Department engineers, who told The New Mexican that it was 70 feet from the top of the hole to the waterline and that the depth had yet to be determined.

Salt-saturated water from the brine wells is used as a drilling fluid by oil and gas producers, the paper reported.

Energy and Minerals Department Secretary Joanna Prukop on Wednesday directed the Oil Conservation Division to evaluate current rules and regulations governing brine wells and ordered an internal audit and inspection of existing brine wells in New Mexico, The New Mexican said.

Meanwhile, I&W Inc., an oilfield trucking firm, has voluntarily shut down its injection brine well located on company property inside Carlsbad city limits, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

Kevin Wilson, I&W operations manager, told the paper the company decided to close the well as a safety precaution and avoid the possibility of sinkhole similar to the one near Artesia that could swallow up businesses and homes near the company's facilities.

"We voluntarily closed ours because of what happened to Jim's Water Service brine well in Atoka," Wilson told the Current-Argus. "Our concern was that our well is in the city limits and close to the highway. Have we shut it down for good? I would have to say the answer is, probably."

The closed well is about 470 feet deep and the top of the salt cavern is about 170 feet wide, Wilson said.

Closing the brine well means the company must look for another source of brine water, but those are becoming hard to find, Wilson told the paper. 

6:55am 7/18/08 — Brine Well Collapses Near Artesia: Officials try to stabilize sinkhole that was several hundred feet across and of an unknown depth.

A brine well on state trust land collapsed this week, forming a sinkhole that was several hundred feet across and of unknown depth, and was still growing as of 4 p.m., according to an Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department news release.

The well, owned by Jim's Water Service, is about 17.3 miles southeast of Artesia and located about 1,000 feet north of Hagerman Road and 2.4 miles southwest of N.M. 360, the release said.

"State, federal, local government and company officials are working together to stabilize the situation and determine the cause," Wayne Price, environmental bureau chief of the department's Oil Conservation Division, said in the release.

State Police were setting up a mobile command center in the area and shut down a three-mile stretch of Hagerman Road as a safety precaution, the release said.

The State Engineer Office said there is little shallow ground water in the area that could be threatened by the collapse, according to the release.

Jim's Water Service told the Oil Conservation Division Wednesday morning about the disappearance of its brine supply, and OCD inspectors reported that the sinkhole had more than doubled in size from Wednesday to Thursday and was still growing, the release said.

The company that operates the well produces brine for oil and gas operations by injecting water into the salt formation at the site, circulating the water until it is saturated with brine, then sells the brine as a drilling fluid, the release said.