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Water district to contest proposed oil drilling rule

March 17, 2017 • Local News

A regional water district has been wrangling with state officials over a proposed oil drilling rule for about a year and will be making its case before a state commission soon in its efforts to keep aquifer waters protected.
The rule is highly technical, but the potential impact to water users in the area could be significant, said A.J. Olsen of Henninghausen and Olsen of Roswell, the lawyer for the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservation District.
“We don’t want hydrocarbons contaminating the aquifer,” he said. “There is a concern whether a possibility of contamination could take place.”
The conservation district was formed by a [auth] court order in 1932 as the regulatory body to protect and conserve the water in the Roswell-Artesia Basin. Now the district also has jurisdiction over some areas of the Pecos River.
The basin covers portions of Chaves and Eddy counties and stretches from about 15 miles north of Roswell to the Brantley Dam area near Carlsbad. Individuals, businesses and agricultural operations use water from the basin.
Olsen said that he has been directed by the district board to argue for its desired modifications to the proposed rule at an April 4 Oil Conservation Commission hearing in Santa Fe.
He said the district wants stricter regulations concerning how drilling casing is set and specifications regarding the casing to ensure that the aquifer water will not be contaminated during drilling processes.
”We are asking the commission to adopt our preferred language or to develop language that will ensure that the waters are protected,” he said.
Some members of the oil industry also have objected to the rule as it stands now because they do not like the expansion of territory to be covered by the rule. Their concerns will also be considered at the hearing, Olsen said.
According to online documents of the case, the commission in previous hearings has adopted some of the recommendations of the water district.
A spokesperson for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department said that the commission does not give opinions about rules prior to hearings.
“To the extent that corrections or minor modifications to the rule are necessary, the commission will hear testimony and make a determination regarding proposed changes,” said Communications Director Beth Wojahn. “The department and OCD will not a position until all the evidence has been heard.”
Staff writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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