By Scott Wyland, Santa Fe New Mexican

July 7, 2021

The agency that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry is issuing citations and plugging abandoned wells at a faster rate since regaining enforcement power in 2020.

The Oil Conservation Division reported filing 23 complaints against operators — imposing $263,000 in penalties — while plugging 49 orphaned wells, the most in one year since at least 2016. The fines are the first the agency has meted out in more than a decade.

The agency credits the increased oversight with state lawmakers restoring its authority to issue administrative penalties, a power the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2009 ruled the agency did not have under the Oil and Gas Act’s previous language.

“In the past two years the OCD has reinforced its commitment to compliance that has only accelerated in the past fiscal year,” Adrienne Sandoval, the agency’s director, said in a statement. “Our continued work to modernize the division and work efficiently is paying off.”