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Group says oil well inspections were ignored under Martinez

By September 22, 2016People & Health

By Rebecca Moss | Santa Fe New Mexican
A new television advertisement claims that after Gov. Susana Martinez received nearly $1 million in campaign donations from oil and gas companies in 2010, a “fictitious inspector” in her administration allowed hundreds of new wells to begin operating without safety inspections of their electrical systems.

“Government should keep our communities and environment safe, but under Governor Susana Martinez not everyone has to play by the rules,” a narrator says in the ad, launched by the left-leaning advocacy group ProgressNow New Mexico Education Fund and the Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund.
The groups’ charge that Martinez’s administration allowed wells to operate without safety inspections appears mostly true. But her staff says the practice was underway long before Martinez took office in 2011 and that she stopped it when she learned it was happening.
“When the governor found out about this practice at the Construction Industries Division [which dated back years to previous administrations], she immediately directed them to stop, complete the required inspections, and bring all sites back into compliance, which they’ve since done,” Joseph Cueto, a spokesman for the state Regulation and Licensing Department, said in an email.
The 30-second ad by the two organizations cites as its source a story in the Albuquerque Journal in 2013 about a state Construction Industries Division backlog of more than 500 requests for inspections of electrical systems at new business projects in the southeastern part of the state. Most were oil and gas wells. The projects were allowed to power up despite the lack of safety inspections, Construction Industries Division officials told the Journal.
When the electrical systems of the projects eventually were inspected, the newspaper reported, 85 percent failed.
The ad criticizing Martinez says a “fictitious inspector” played a part in the wells being allowed to operate.
A Construction Industries Division supervisor told a co-worker in a memo that he had created a computer file called E-Vacant, which he referred to in the memo as a “fictitious inspector” to keep track of those projects.
According to records compiled by the Institute on Money in State Politics and, Martinez indeed collected hundreds of donations from oil and gas companies and their owners totaling $973,885 for her first gubernatorial campaign in 2010.
The ad, titled “Rules,” is the third in a four-part series through ProgressNow New Mexico Education Fund’s Put New Mexico First campaign. It will air on Albuquerque TV stations, as well as Comcast and Dish Network stations in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, at a cost of $60,000.
A previous ad in the Put New Mexico First series highlighted Martinez’s campaign donations from Santa Fe oil and gas attorney Dan Perry. The ad, titled “Traditions,” says Perry and his organization, New Mexico Habitat Conservation Initiatives, gave more than $50,000 in donations to the governor’s campaign, influencing a policy that privatized stream access in the state.
Perry told The New Mexican that he has a right to fight for the political causes he believes in.
The first ad in the series, titled “Sinkholes,” centered on an abandoned brine well below a busy intersection in Carlsbad. The company that abandoned the well after filing for bankruptcy in 2011 had donated more than $20,000 to Martinez’s campaign and SusanaPAC, a political committee affiliated with the governor.