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Brine well testing resumes

It’s been more than two years since New Mexico officials first became concerned about the possibility that a cavern formed by a brine well operation near a busy Carlsbad intersection might one day collapse.

Nearby is the roadway, a church, a feed store, a mobile home park and an irrigation canal that serves farmers throughout the lower Pecos River Valley.

While no one can say whether the cavern will ever collapse, state officials still want to know what they’re dealing with. They have resumed a battery of tests in an effort to get a better idea of exactly how big the void is under the old brine well facility.

The brine well that was once operated by I&W Trucking first came to the attention of state regulators after two other brine wells collapsed in remote areas north of Carlsbad during a four-month span in 2008. The collapses prompted the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to issue a moratorium on new brine wells and initiate a review of all existing brine well operations. Brine is used by the oil and natural gas industry.

The state determined the I&W well was a threat. The Oil Conservation Division spent more than a half-million dollars on an early-warning system that would indicate the start of a collapse. The city of Carlsbad also stepped in with about $1.7 million of its own money for monitoring and additional surveys to gauge the size of the void.

The state was able to take over the monitoring again in December and resumed testing thanks to a tax increase on oil production that kicks in when prices exceed $70 a barrel.