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An unlined waste pit with fracking fluid and other drilling wastewater. (Image: Sarah Craig - Faces of Fracking via Flickr)

New Mexico orders company to clean oil disposal site spill

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico regulators have accused a Texas company of trespassing and causing a spill at a disposal site used by the oil and gas industry.

The State Land Office delivered a letter Wednesday to Midland, Texas-based Siana Operating ordering it to obtain an entry permit to remediate damage at the waste-water injection well it operates on state trust land in Lea County. The letter also threatened “any and all criminal and civil actions available” if requirements are not met. The company’s lease to use the facility had expired, the agency said.

Separately, the state Oil Conservation Division issued an emergency order late Wednesday for Siana to temporarily shut off all of its wells, both for oil production and water disposal, until a hearing can be held on possible violations. State records list the company as an operator for at least 11 drilling locations.

A Siana representative said the company was aware of the problem and was still considering its response.

The State Land Office distributed photographs taken on Tuesday at the disposal well site 20 miles southwest of Eunice that show an unlined pool of water and oil on the ground, and traces of liquids on the ground elsewhere.

New Mexico’s state trust lands support about 60 similar commercial sites for disposing of waste-water from oil and gas drilling.

The letter from the State Land Office to Siana described earlier orders for the company to cease commercial operations at the site near Eunice, including correspondence in February. The State Land Office said Siana has not paid the state for its lease at the site since December 2011 and last reported activity there in June 2015.

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said in a statement that problems at the water injection site were brought to the state’s attention by a Lea County rancher who also leases trust lands.

Patrick Padilla, assistant commissioner for mineral resources at the State Land Office, said the agency was taking steps to block access to the site to prevent more trucks from delivering oily water.

Siana’s leases are monitored by the Oil Conservation Division of the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. The agency has scheduled a compliance hearing for March 31.

Lease proceeds from New Mexico’s state trust lands are funneled into multibillion-dollar funds that sustain spending on public schools, universities, hospitals and other public institutions. The trust lands extend across 9 million acres, with further subsurface land rights.

In related news, New Mexico court ruling revives lawsuit against oil company.

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