BLM approves new gas well on Otero Mesa

The Las Cruces office of the BLM has approved an application by Harvey E. Yates Co. (HEYCO) to drill a new gas well on Otero Mesa, even though the company has said it does not intend to comply with a state law prohibiting open waste pits on Otero Mesa, and a state agency cabinet secretary has agreed that state law need not be followed.

The rule that requires oil and gas drillers to use closed loop systems on Otero Mesa was enacted under former Governor Bill Richardson to protect groundwater from contamination. However, John Bemis, secretary of the NM Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, and a former energy company attorney, sent a letter to BLM dated May 1, 2012, saying that HEYCO did not need to adhere to the closed loop rule, even though the rule remains in effect.

It is extremely rare for BLM not to require oil and gas operators to comply with state law. SWEC and other conservation groups have appealed the decision to the BLM state director.