New Mexico Environmental Law Center
pit rule page







The New Mexico Pit Rule regulates the use of oil and gas drilling waste pits. The Pit Rule was adopted by the Oil Conservation Commission in 2008 and vastly improved the regulation of these waste pits, protecting water, soil and public health from toxic levels of dangerous chemicals found in oil field waste.

Oily pit in SE NM

At the behest of the oil and gas industry, the Commission’s recent amendments to the Pit Rule relax or remove many of the protections that communities with oil and gas drilling operations have come to rely on.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Photo courtesy Click to enlarge.
Photo credit: Carl Johnson
The new Pit Rule has serious consequences for communities in any county where oil and gas operations occur. The risk is even greater with reduced agency budgets. More and more, cities and counties cannot rely on the State of New Mexico to protect their residents and property from oil and gas development.[Top]

BY THE NUMBERS (no audio)

Some of the protections that have been lost are:

BURY WASTE ANYWHERE - Oil and gas operators can now bury waste with very high concentrations of benzene, salt, arsenic, radiation, mercury and other poisons at almost any drill site.[Top]

SETBACKS HAVE BEEN RELAXED - Siting requirements are very permissive for pits containing “low chloride” waste fluids. “Low chloride” waste fluid is fluid containing 15,000 mg/L of salt (seawater is 19,000 mg/L). “Low chloride” fluids also typically contain high concentrations of toxic chemicals like benzene and arsenic. Pits containing these pollutants can be located within 100 feet of perennial water courses, 200 feet from a lake, 300 feet from a residence, school or church and 200 feet from a spring or water well. More highly contaminated water requires slightly bigger setbacks. The old Pit Rule generally required setbacks ranging from 500 to 1000 feet.

NO SITE SPECIFIC PRE-PIT DATA - The new Pit Rule no longer requires an operator to collect site specific groundwater, surface water or soil quality data before a pit is dug. Instead, the new rule allows an operator to submit data based on general reports on water quality in the region, in essence, to make an educated guess. Without pre-operational site specific water quality and soil data, it will be difficult if not impossible to prove that a pit leak or spill has occurred.

ACCEPTABLE CONCENTRATIONS OF TOXINS RAISED TO MEET TYPICAL OPERATIONS - Acceptable concentrations of toxins in waste fluids are now raised to meet what a typical operation would produce - it's like raising the speed limit to 300 miles an hour: police can monitor all day long with radar guns, but no one is going to exceed the limit. The old Pit Rule required pit wastes to meet New Mexico’s health based groundwater standards before it could be buried. Otherwise, waste was required to be hauled to a properly licensed and monitored facility.[Top]

What you can do >


SUPPORT  the NMELC in its continued litigation against the weakened Pit Rule.
Your donations are tax-deductible.

CONTACT  your local government leaders and tell them you want ordinances that protect groundwater and public health.



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Rio Arriba County Oil and Gas Ordinance [PDF]

Santa Fe County Oil and Gas Ordinance [PDF]

Intermountain Oil and Gas Best Management Practices (BMP) Project, an informative site that compiles all of NM's local oil and gas laws.

Bakken Watch, a North Dakota organization that monitors oil and gas activity in the Bakken Shale.

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, has a lot of really good information on what chemicals are used in oil and gas development.

EARTHWORK's Oil and Gas Accountability Project is our client in the Pit Rule litigation. OGAP works with drilling impacted communities around the country. See: Hydraulic Fracturing and the FRAC Act: FAQs and Loopholes for Polluters

Marcellus Protest, is a Pennsylvania organization opposed to fracking in the Marcellus Shale., is another Pennsylvania site with LOTS of photos of fracking operations. See pictures of waste pits or "impoundments"

ProPublica report Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Impact, Updated Feb. 4, 2013

Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale Uncovered, is website created by Environmental Studies Department at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania covering natural gas drilling.

2008, Jun - Stringent waste pit regulations adopted (see case page)

2008, Jul - The New Mexico oil and gas industry sues to overturn pit rule (see Pit Rule appeal case page)

2009, Feb - Governor Bill Richardson proposes modifications to the Pit Rule (read press release)

2009, Jun - State adopts Governor Richardson's change to chlorides standard in Pit Rule.

2009, Jul - Appeal brought by oil and gas industry begins in State District Court.

2012, Jan - District Court Judge Vigil postpones appeal so that the Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) can ‘revisit’ and consider the changes proposed by industry.

2012, Jan - District Court Judge Ortiz grants the NMELC’s request that the OCC be prohibited from reconsidering the Pit Rule until all the court appeals of the rule have been resolved.

2012, Feb - Judge Ortiz rescinds his order and grants a stay of appeals pending the outcome of the OCC's consideration of the changes to the Pit Rule proposed by industry.

2013, Jun - The OCC adopts most of the oil and gas industry’s proposed changes to the pit rule (read press release)

2013, Jul - NMELC and its client, OGAP, file an appeal of the new Pit Rule in state District Court.

2014, Jan – The case is “certified” to the state Court of Appeals, meaning that it skips over the District Court process. The appeal is currently underway.