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Rule Changes Are "the Pits?"

April 2, 2009

Santa Fe - There's a hearing today on rule changes for the energy industry in New Mexico that some say are just the pits. That's the word from conservation groups and industry watchdogs concerned about changes, proposed by the Richardson administration, that would affect the pits that oil and gas companies use to dispose of drilling waste.

Gwen Lachelt, director of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, says one change in particular could allow the oil and gas industry to dispose of more toxic materials in New Mexicans' backyards.

"New Mexico's water and land and public health are at risk from companies being allowed to dispose of toxic oil and gas drilling wastes in more places."

The rule changes are meant to lower costs for the oil and gas industry, which was the source of recent booms in revenue for the state before the recession. But Lachelt says most experts agree that increasing the threat to New Mexico groundwater from pollution won't help the state's bottom line.

"The root cause is actually low energy prices that are the reason for state budget shortfalls and decreased revenues from the oil and gas industry. These actually have nothing to do with environmental regulations."

The rule changes could raise the current chloride standard by twelve times, which many believe could pose a threat to groundwater. The industry claims rules put in place for pits last year are too strict, and the changes are a good compromise, but Lachelt says those original rules had the strong backing of a broad array of New Mexicans.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM