New Mexico contemplates new powers for oil regulators

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – The New Mexico Legislature may restore the state’s authority to impose administrative penalties of up to $10,000 per day against oil and natural gas companies for violations of operating and environmental rules.

A Senate panel is scheduled Tuesday to consider a bill that broadens civil enforcement of the state Oil and Gas Act and increases the current $1,000 maximum penalty for administrative violations.

A 2009 state Supreme Court decision held that the Oil Conservation Division was not authorized to assess civil penalties and had to file a lawsuit in court to enforce regulations for oil, gas and waste-water injection wells. Weaknesses in current enforcement provisions were highlighted last year by an out-of-state driller ignoring orders and lease provisions.

Texas allows daily penalties of $10,000, and Colorado can charge $15,000.