New Mexico on Wednesday completed a string of hearings spread over four months on a request from the state's two main energy industry groups that the "pit rule" be modified to make it more cost-effective.

Closing written statements from all parties are due Sept. 17, and deliberations are set to begin in Santa Fe, NM, at the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) a week later (Sept. 24).

Put on hold by a state judge until a June series of hearings was completed (see Daily GPI, May 22; Feb. 28), the petition by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico (IPA) and the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association (OGA) seeks administrative changes to New Mexico's rules for handling natural gas and oil drilling production waste.

IPA and OGA representatives told the OCC in earlier hearings this year that their costs are rising to comply with the pit rules, and local ranchers expressed environmental concerns.

On Wednesday in Santa Fe, testimony and cross-examination of a soil expert, Bruce Buchanan, were completed. OGA had asked Buchanan to testify to rebut previous testimony by another soil expert, Don Neeper, on "salt bulge" in soils. Buchanan was questioned by an IPA attorney, a state lands office member and Neeper. There were no public comments, according to a spokeswoman for the OCC.

"The pit rule hearings have concluded," the spokesperson told NGI's Shale Daily, noting that the closing argument deadline and deliberations are scheduled for September.

Court challenges have characterized the pit rule debate for several years, involving both the industry groups and environmentalists since the OCC established the rules under then-Gov. Bill Richardson's administration. Earlier this year the OCC was looking at making some changes (see Daily GPI, Jan. 12), but the hearing was postponed.

In a preliminary ruling made public earlier in February, a judge in the state First Judicial District Court issued a writ calling for the two industry associations to stop their attempts to get the OCC to make changes in the rules, stating that as long as there are legal appeals pending, no changes in the regulations can be made.

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