- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A judge is deciding whether to impose a moratorium on oil drilling permits for land in northwestern New Mexico.

U.S. Judge James Browning could implement a moratorium as a lawsuit filed in March by environmental organizations moves forward, the Albuquerque Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1K5X2Ai ).

Browning began hearing arguments Monday and is expected to issue a ruling in August.

The groups want a more thorough environmental impact study from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Two oil companies have drilled 150 wells since 2011 into the hard shale covering oil in the Mancos, an area made accessible through new techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Agency officials are conducting a supplemental impact study on the new drilling that the groups against the process say isn’t enough.

“The BLM says it hasn’t analyzed this technology before and it says it needs to, but yet it continues to approve the technology to go forward with new drilling,” said Wild Earth Guardian attorney Samantha Ruscavage-Barz.

A total of five oil companies have joined the lawsuit supporting the land management agency.

An attorney for the companies told Browning a halt in drilling would cause enormous harm to Encana Corp. of Canada and WPX Energy of Oklahoma.

“Encana and WPX have drilled over 100 wells in the past four years, together investing over $1 billion in the Mancos, and now they’re being asked to stop,” attorney John Shepherd said. “It would cause enormous harm to the companies if they had to stop at this point.”

The moratorium could halt production in the Mancos for the three or four years.

Gov. Susana Martinez is urging U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewel to support the land management agency’s position, saying a pause in permitting could put production in the San Juan Basin at risk.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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