By Camaron Abundes
LEA COUNTY- Air compressors pipe oxygen underground at a remediation site in Lea County. It's an intricate cleanup system designed to speed up the natural degradation of oil found in the groundwater, in 1998.
"Basically microbes or bugs, you know that live in the ground water, and these will consume the oil," Chevron's Manager of Oil Area Operations, George Buck III, said. "By pumping air down there we make them a little more vibrant."
The origin of the oil contamination near the city of Lovington's water supply is still not clear but Oil Conservation Division Officials say Chevron is not likely to blame, but they are cleaning it up anyway.
"They've been exceptionally proactive at addressing contamination issues there," Mark Fesmire, PE, JD, Chairman of the Oil Conservation Commission, said.
Chevron is zeroing in on prevention starting with the ideals they teach the employees at all levels of the company.
"Protecting people and the environment is one of our core values," Buck said.
Regular testing, mechanical advancements, and automated monitoring of wells is one way they're focusing on prevention.
"We're spending a lot of time, effort, and money to ensure releases and spills don't occur," Buck said.
Even before the state adopted stricter rules for the use of pits, the company opted for a steel closed loop system for each of their wells in Southeast in New Mexico..
"We're going to need to produce oil and gas but New Mexico is going to need our water," Fesmire said.
Fesmire says the cost of remediation of contaminated sites can run into the millions.
"That means it's good for their companies bottom line to do what's right," Fesmire said.
Companies are required to report any spills or hazards. Fesmire says if a company abandons a site then taxpayers can end up paying the bill.
"We don't have the funds or the personnel to address these ourselves," Buddy Hill, District Supervisor of the Oil Conservation Division District 1, said.
The OCD wants to stress prevention. It's motto is no new contamination sites and Fesmire says even though attitudes within the industry are changing he's worried about old sites. Drilling started back in the 1920's and most sites have a pit associated with the each of 90,000 wells drilled over the years. An estimated 10,000 wells were used for just waste.
"We've got an awful lot of sites that have the potential to become issues," Fesmire said.
Fesmire says oil isn't the only problem. If the produced water ends up in the ground water it can be more difficult to remediate and just as harmful to the environment.