In a proactive effort to address the issue of abandoned oil and gas wells, the New Mexico State Land Office has plugged more than 200 inactive wells, saving taxpayers an estimated $20 million in cleanup costs. This initiative is separate from the $4.7 billion in federal infrastructure spending aimed at plugging and reclaiming orphaned wells across the country.
The Land Office’s efforts have led to a nearly 20% reduction in the number of abandoned wells on state trust lands, which were designated for generating revenue for public institutions. Some of the plugged wells date back to the 1980s, illustrating the long-standing problem. Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard emphasized the importance of holding companies accountable for cleaning up their operations while still generating record revenues for schools and other public services. “This program has proven that we can require companies to clean up after themselves and still deliver billions of dollars in record revenues for our schools and other institutions,” she said in a statement, adding that environmental compliance has been a priority for the office amid booming production in the state.
New Mexico, which houses part of the Permian Basin, has become the second-largest oil-producing state in the US. State officials have been using satellite imagery to detect spills on state trust lands and have increased audits of producer royalties. The Land Office’s plugging program contacts producers to address inactive wells and remediate contamination, with litigation possible if operators fail to respond adequately.
Ari Biernoff, general counsel at the State Land Office, highlighted the importance of using all available tools to enforce compliance, noting that the program targets irresponsible operators.“While many lessees and operators act responsibly, this program exists for those who don’t,” Biernoff said.
Plugging and cleanup costs vary significantly, with over 1,000 chronically inactive wells identified on state trust land, a total that has accumulated over multiple decades. This initiative demonstrates New Mexico’s commitment to mitigating the environmental impact of the oil and gas industry while protecting taxpayer interests.