Political problems—not just oil—-produced in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin

A shakeup on the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission has occurred after the state regulatory body recently moved to ease restrictions on well locations for a Texas company operating in the San Juan Basin.


New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn removed his agency’s appointee to the state Oil Conservation Commission after that staffer voted in favor of the request by Hilcorp Energy Co. during a Nov. 19 hearing.

Dunn told The Associated Press he’s concerned about Hilcorp’s plans to redevelop thousands of existing wells in the San Juan Basin as the company looks to target a formation known as the Blanco-Mesaverde gas pool.

Density limits that had been in place for years prevented the company from tapping more of the pool without first seeking exceptions for individual wells. In the last year, the three-member commission granted dozens of exceptions for Hilcorp.

The commission is expected in December to finalize its recent decision to allow for potentially double the density of wells in some parts of the basin.

Environmentalists, landowners and some elected politicians have accused the commission of being concerned only about the technical aspects of what happens below ground rather than any surface disturbances.

More than 100 square miles (263 square kilometers) of state trust land could be affected in the San Juan Basin.

Dunn has asked the state Attorney General’s Office to look into the process to ensure the commission is following the law. The State Land Office also is concerned an attorney for the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department is acting as the commission’s legal counsel. Dunn contends that duty legally belongs to the state attorney general.

The Attorney General’s Office has raised its own questions. Agency spokesman David Carl said Monday that the office “remains highly concerned that this process has not allowed for full transparency and adequate public input.”

Hilcorp has argued that its application did not seek to drill more wells or change the way new wells are permitted. But environmentalists and others argue the commission should have considered air quality and other data from federal agencies on the potential cumulative effects.