NEW MEXICO (KRQE) –  During the pandemic, fewer people were out and about so demand for fuel was down, now that things are getting back to normal, oil production is back and so is the number of spills.

According to a new study by the Center for Western Priorities, oil and gas companies spilled over 658,000 gallons of oil in New Mexico last year from a total of 1,368 spills. That’s significantly higher than the 1,269 spills in 2020. Officials are attributing the lower numbers in 2020 to the pandemic and now things are returning to normal, and so is oil production.

“What we’re trying to do is, you know, encourage operators to look at, their operations holistically,” said ENMRD Oil Conservation Division Direction Adrienne Sandoval. She said that would encourage companies to take preventative measures beforehand.

“What we have found is that if we trend all of the spill data a lot of times these spills are preventable, so we want to encourage operators to take a look at their operations, put preventative mechanisms in place so that, we’re preventing these spills upfront rather than having to clean them up on the backend,” said Sandoval. 

Sandoval said the state recently adopted new rules to eliminate pollution from oil and gas. “The OCD changed our spill rules in 2021, which went into effect at the end of the year and it changed small wording that spills are now unlawful,” said Sandoval.

The new regulations would slap violators with immediate fines and bans routine flaring, which is the burning of excess gas.

  1. Total volume of Natural Gas Vented/Flared or released (Waste rule went into effect May 25, 2021) 
    • 2020 – 1,738,092 mcf   
    • 2021 – 6,886,590 mcf
    • 2022 – 3,758,155 mcf

Critics say the new rules are too demanding for small oil producers. State Representative Jim Townsend (R), who represents much of southern New Mexico, said the companies he’s worked with have always put safety first by thinking of the community.

“They try to prevent environmental damage. They live in the communities that they work in. Them and their children go to school, those communities,” said Rep. Townsend.” “So there they are, good citizens, in the communities they work in and they try real hard to prevent those types of things from occurring.”

Rep. Townsend said the companies he has worked with over the years of his life have also always been proactive even with the new rule changes.

“There’s all sorts of new technologies out, inline inspection tools for pipelines, for example, that you can run in a pipeline while it’s in service, and it can identify areas of the wall of the pipe that may be thinning,” said Rep. Townsend. “So you can go in and make repairs long before there’s ever any release. That technology is also available for tanks and other metal devices that you can run up that type of detection on.”

So far this year, there have been 400 liquid releases or oil spills.