Oil In New Mexico

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Unable to keep pace with a booming industry while using an outdated rulebook, a retired oil inspector in New Mexico described his job as “a strenuous exercise in futility.”

Mónica Ortiz Uribe writes about poor regulation of the rapidly growing oil industry in southeast New Mexico during the time when oil topped $100 a barrel.


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In the Southwest, companies are flocking to the Permian Basin, one of the richest oil reserves in the nation. The hotspot in New Mexico is near the Texas border. Wages are high and workers are in demand.
The explosive growth of the oil industry in eastern New Mexico is challenging local towns. Housing is limited, classrooms are crowded and roads are more dangerous.
In Southeast New Mexico, water is scarce and oil is plentiful. Yet both are in high demand. A barrel of oil will fetch a handsome profit at today's prices. But producing it takes plenty of water.
On the streets of Carlsbad, N.M., it's hard to miss an RV lit up with Christmas lights and plastered with hundreds of stickers.
In New Mexico, state inspectors are short staffed and use a rulebook that dates back to 1935.
The state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in New Mexico lacks full authority to enforce its own rules. This has proven problematic, especially since the latest oil boom took off six years ago.
New Mexico's oil and gas industry is the goose that lays the golden egg. In recent years the industry generated about 30 percent of the state's revenue, which makes some in government especially protective of it.
The number of active wells across the state of New Mexico is 60,000. Compare that to the number of state inspectors who check those wells. Statewide there are just 14.