New Mexico’s Public Lands Commissioner Announces Intention to End Easements to State Lands for Pumping Fresh Groundwater

Public Lands Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard on December 15, 2020 informed companies holding easements granting access for pumping fresh water from state trust lands managed by the New Mexico State Land Office (SLO) that SLO will not be renewing their easements, nor issuing new such easements. Citing concerns with the scarcity of fresh water resources statewide, and challenges faced by small communities in proximity to the Permian Basin in particular, her policy letter seeks to encourage the oil and gas industry to recycle produced water from oil production in the basin for use in hydraulic fracturing operations.

According to the Commissioner, which controls access to lands administered by SLO but does not directly regulate or permit groundwater per se—a function reserved exclusively to the Office of the State Engineer—“[t]here simply is no reason for freshwater to be used for fracking.” It is not clear whether and how the Commissioner’s policy letter will be viewed as comporting with the constitutional obligation of her office to maximize benefits to the trust established from the use of state lands for the benefit of New Mexico’s schools.

A copy of the letter and a related policy release this month from the Commissioner may be accessed here: