By Associated Press - Thursday, November 19, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico State Land Office that oversees thousands of oil and natural gas development leases in a major U.S. petroleum-production basin is expanding environmental enforcement efforts to ensure that oilfield sites get cleaned up and restored as leases expire.

At an online news conference Thursday, the agency announced enhanced reviews at oil-lease sites that pose immediate environmental concerns.

Officials say the initiative already has resulted in completed environmental reclamation efforts at sites spanning roughly 11 square miles (28 square kilometers), and the plugging of nine oil wells within the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico.

At the same time, the land office indicated it has filed nine lawsuits aimed at clean-up compliance against leaseholders for oil and gas development, a salt-water disposal well operator and others.

The efforts are aimed at holding oilfield businesses accountable for ground spills of oil, natural gas, polluted or brackish water used in the drilling process as well as abandoned well pads, tanks for liquids, pipelines and roads.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said the effort “is about accountability and enforcement and really taking the requirements that are in that legal contract that (lease holders) have with us and ensuring that they are properly adhered to.”

The State Land Office collects as much as $1 billion annually in revenue from a variety of business activities on state trust land to benefit public schools, hospitals and other institutions.

Oil and gas development accounts for the agency’s largest revenue source. Wind energy project and livestock grazing also are part of the mix.

Separately, the land office is reviewing the adequacy of bonding requirements that help ensure businesses complete environmental restoration efforts.

“We are also embarking on this new world of high-res satellite imagery to allow us to look at trespass, spills - things like that - on our 13 million acres of state trust land,” Garcia Richard said.

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