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State Land Office sues over abandoned wells

Abandoned oil and gas infrastructure is seen here in McKinley County. The State Land Office is suing two companies to compel them to plug abandoned wells and pay fines for trespassing after their leases expired. (Courtesy of NM State Land Office)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The New Mexico State Land Office is suing two oil and gas companies for failing to clean up abandoned wells and other infrastructure on more than 500 acres in McKinley County.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in 1st Judicial District Court states that BC&D Operating and Dominion Production Co. did not “plug wells, remediate spills, remove debris” or reclaim roads and well pads after their leases expired in 2018.

“By leaving improvements, such as tank batteries, pump jacks, surface flowlines and other abandoned infrastructure on the Subject Lands, and by leaving wells unplugged, BC&D and Dominion are committing an ongoing trespass,” the lawsuit states.

The office is asking that the court compel the companies to plug at least 29 abandoned oil wells, reclaim 500 acres and pay penalties for breaching their lease contracts.

State land leases for the sites date back to the 1920s.

To properly plug and abandon a well per state Oil Conservation Division rules, “cement, drilling mud, and plugs are placed in the wellbore to prevent fluid from migrating among the underground rock layers.”

Thursday’s lawsuit is the 16th filed by the State Land Office as part of an accountability and enforcement program launched in November.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said the program has resulted in 18 plugged wells and 12 reclaimed sites.

Employees also audit water disposal leases, and have ramped up the use of satellite imagery and site inspections as part of the initiative.

“A lot of companies are proving willing to work with the State Land Office to clean up abandoned well sites,” Garcia Richard said. “At the other end of the spectrum, we are taking decisive legal action against companies who walk away from their messes and responsibilities to the land.”

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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