New Mexico weighs new authority for oilfield regulators

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico oilfield regulators would recover the authority to directly levy civil fines against well operators under proposed legislation backed by leading Democratic lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Initial committee deliberations were scheduled Thursday on a bill that is being closely watched by industry representatives and advocates for tighter state oversight of oil wells and waste-water disposal sites.

State fines against sloppy oilfield operators in New Mexico have ground to a halt in the aftermath of a 2009 state Supreme Court decision that required the involvement of state prosecutors.

The bill from Sen. Richard Martinez of Espanola would give new authority to the Oil Conservation Division to pursue sanctions directly through administrative hearings or litigation. It would increase potential penalties from $1,000 a day to $15,000.