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State land commissioner balks at oil and gas proposal

December 22, 2018

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn is crying foul over what his aides say are potential conflicts of interest between regulators and an oil and gas company.

In just the latest turn in the controversy surrounding an energy industry proposal to expand drilling in New Mexico’s northwest corner, Dunn on Friday called on the state attorney general to investigate.

The Oil Conservation Commission approved the proposal by Texas-based Hilcorp Energy Co. last month.

But State Land Office staff pointed out that one member of the commission, Heather Riley, formerly worked for WPX Energy. So, too, did Ken McQueen, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

WPX Energy sold its assets in recent years to Logos Operating, which the State Land Office said is party to Hilcorp’s proposal.

And the State Land Office said Logos Operating stands to benefit from the move, which Dunn, a Libertarian, opposed.

McQueen called the allegations “completely ridiculous.”

“The land commissioner is clearly desperate to try and score political points as he leaves office and is throwing every outrageous idea against the wall in order to see what sticks,” he said.

Environmental groups have opposed the move to double the number of wells allowed in the San Juan Basin’s Blanco-Mesaverde gas pool.

Previously, four wells were allowed per 320-acre tract of the Blanco-Mesaverde. The signed order allows eight.

Dunn argued the commission rushed the proposal at the expense of land owners and the environment to get it through before a new Democratic administration takes office on Jan. 1.

But proponents argued the move is a win for economic development in a historically poor corner of the state.

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