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Frequently Asked Questions About Oil and Gas

Compiled by Ron Broadhead and Shari Kelley

How do I find information on oil and gas wells drilled in New Mexico?
We maintain the New Mexico Library of Subsurface Data that contains completion records for all 110,000 wells drilled for oil and natural gas in the state, as well as electric logs, sample logs, drillers logs, and other well information. Our library is a public facility that is open during the hours of 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., Monday through Friday. You may also contact us for information by contacting Amy Trivitt-Kracke. Copies of well records and well logs are available at a nominal cost. Some well logs are available in digital format.
Are there other sources of oil and gas well information that I may use?
The New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (NMOCD) maintains a digital library of well logs. Although logs and well records for many New Mexico wells are available at the NMOCD website, the emphasis is on wells drilled on state and private lands. Our Subsurface Library contains substantial information on wells drilled on federal lands within the state of New Mexico. We also have logs and other information for wells drilled on state and private lands that do not appear in the NMOCD files.
Is there a repository for cores and other well samples in New Mexico?
The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources maintains extensive collections of cores and drill cuttings from wells drilled within New Mexico. Our data includes cores from more than 2000 oil, natural gas, minerals, coal, and geothermal wells in New Mexico and drill cuttings from 20,000 oil and natural gas exploration and production wells. All cores and cuttings samples are available for examination at no charge. For those who are unable to visit our facility, we will ship cores and cuttings for freight costs. Digital catalogs of cores and cuttings are available on request. Should you wish to examine or borrow cores or drill cuttings, please contact Annabelle Lopez.
How much oil and natural gas has been produced in New Mexico?
New Mexico ranks second in natural gas production and fifth in oil production of all states. During 2001, 69.9 million barrels of oil and 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were produced in New Mexico. You may call us at (575) 835-5402 for additional information. The New Mexico Oil Conservation Division maintains some production information . Production data for individual oil and gas wells are available through the Go-Tech site. The Go-Tech site contains monthly production data for oil and gas wells; they are currently working on putting historical production data into the system. Cumulative production data are not available for either individual wells or for individual oil and gas fields.
Where are oil and gas produced in New Mexico?
Production is obtained principally from two areas: the Permian Basin of Lea, Eddy, Chaves, and Roosevelt Counties in southeastern New Mexico and the San Juan Basin of San Juan, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and McKinley Counties in northwestern New Mexico. 67% of New Mexico gas is produced from the San Juan Basin and 33% is produced from the Permian Basin. 95% of the oil is produced from the Permian Basin and 5% of the oil is produced from the San Juan Basin. Within the past few years, additional sources of gas have been discovered in the Raton Basin in northeastern New Mexico; production in this area is in its early stages and the basin may become a major contributor to production in the future. Active exploration and drilling programs are currently being conducted in currently unproductive regions, including the Tucumcari Basin in east-central New Mexico as well as in the central and southwestern parts of the state.
oil and gass fields-NM
Don’t oil and natural gas occur in large underground lakes, or pools?
The terms oil pool and gas pool are a great source of confusion when it comes to understanding how oil and natural gas occur in the ground beneath us. Oil and gas occur in porous rocks, or reservoirs, in the ground beneath us. A complex series of natural geological processes has led to the accumulation of oil and gas in these reservoir rocks. For an introduction to this fascinating subject, please refer to our online introduction to petroleum geology. For more detailed information see our online article in the 2002 Decision Makers volume.
What is the economic impact of oil and gas production on the state of New Mexico?
Oil and natural gas production is a mainstay of New Mexico’s economy. The value of oil and gas produced from the state during 2000 was $8.2 billion. It is estimated that oil and natural gas production annually contributes $1.2 billion to the state’s economy. Taxes on oil and gas production contribute approximately 20% of the state’s general fund. Royalties from production on New Mexico state trust lands have provided 95% of the revenues to the State Land Permanent Fund, which supports K-12 schools, universities, the Children’s Hospital, and prisons and has contributed similar amounts to the Severance Tax Permanent Fund. The oil and gas industry is one of the largest private sector employers in the state with 23,000 jobs.
When did oil and gas production begin in New Mexico?
Oil and gas were first produced in New Mexico during the 1920’s. Oil production peaked in the late 1960’s and natural gas production is currently at its peak due to the discovery of coal gas in the San Juan Basin during the past 15 years. Before the discovery of coal gas, natural gas production in the state was in decline. The following graphs show the historical production of oil and natural gas production in New Mexico.
oil production-NM
gas production-NM
OK, so oil and natural gas form an important part of our economy and provides us with fuel to heat our homes, drive our cars etc. How long will oil and gas production last in New Mexico?
This is a complex question that depends on many factors including oil and gas prices, technological innovation, and the willingness to explore for and develop new sources of oil and natural gas. In general gas production from existing wells declines 50% every five years. This decline rate is somewhat less for oil. That means half of the natural gas that we use is obtained from wells drilled within the past five years. In order to replace this production new wells must be drilled. New technologies and new geological concepts can help alleviate production declines by helping to produce overlooked oil and gas or undiscovered oil and gas in old fields. Application of new, advanced technologies will become increasingly important in the future. Our recently released Open-File Report 479 (Play analysis of major oil reservoirs in the “New Mexico part of the Permian Basin,” Broadhead, Ronald F., 2004, CD-ROM) discusses advanced technologies that have been used successfully to increase production from existing oil fields in New Mexico. Visit our online article on this subject for more information on the future of oil and production in New Mexico.
What types of natural gases are produced in New Mexico?
The vast majority of natural gases produced in New Mexico are hydrocarbon gas. This gas type is what most people think of when “natural gas” is mentioned—hydrocarbon gases will burn and are used to heat our homes, power factories, generate electricity, etc. Two other types of naturally occurring gases are also produced in New Mexico: carbon dioxide and helium. Naturally occurring carbon dioxide is produced from the Bravo Dome field of Union and Harding Counties in northeastern New Mexico. The carbon dioxide is transported by pipeline to the Permian Basin where it is injected into old oil fields in order to increase oil recovery from old fields that might otherwise be abandoned. The Bravo Dome field is one of the largest known naturally occurring accumulations of carbon dioxide in the world. During 2001, approximately 120 billion cubic feet of carbon dioxide worth $51 million were produced from the Bravo Dome field. This production contributes directly to the state’s economy and tax base but also contributes indirectly by increasing oil production when injected into older oil fields.
Helium is also produced?
Natural gas that contains elevated levels of helium is also produced in New Mexico. At present, all production comes from two small fields in San Juan County in northwestern New Mexico, but there are active exploration programs being conducted in other parts of the state as well.
What is helium used for, besides filling party balloons?
Helium gas has many important uses. It is chemically inert and has an ultra-low temperature when compressed to a liquid. It is invaluable and irreplaceable in many cryogenic applications because there is no substitute for helium where temperatures less than –429 °F are required. Major uses in the United States include cryogenics, pressurizing and purging, welding, and controlled atmospheres. Leak detection and synthetic breathing mixtures are other uses. The major cryogenic use is in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) instruments. Use as a lifting gas, including for party balloons, is minor.
Carbon dioxide production? Don’t we want to get rid of carbon dioxide and not produce it?
Yes, carbon dioxide that is released to the atmosphere by combustion of fossil fuels is suspected by many scientists to contribute to global warming. At present, New Mexico Tech, in conjunction with universities from several western states, is conducting research to identify methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (or sequester it) by isolating it at major sources. There are a number of methodologies that are under investigation for sequestration of CO2. Important among these are injection into abandoned gas fields or injection into old oil fields where it may be used to enhance oil recovery. Perhaps CO2 sequestered from the atmosphere will eventually replace CO2 produced from the Bravo Dome and other sources that is currently used for enhanced oil recovery.
Who regulates the oil and gas exploration and production industry in New Mexico?
Drilling and production on New Mexico State Trust Lands and on private lands is regulated by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division. Drilling on Federal lands is regulated mostly by the United States Bureau of Land Management or the United States Forest Service in national forests. Regulations are aimed at minimizing surface disturbance from drilling and production operations and safeguarding sources of drinking water, among other things.
How may I contact representatives of the oil and gas production industry?
There are two industry associations that represent the oil and natural gas production industry in New Mexico. The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association represents both major and smaller (independent) oil and gas exploration and production companies as well as refiners, transporters, and marketers. The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico represents the independent producers.
What roles do the independent and major producers play within New Mexico?
In the past, most oil and gas produced in New Mexico was produced by the large, or major, companies. In recent years, however, the smaller independent companies have come to produce most of the oil and gas in New Mexico. The following graph illustrates this trend.
majors and independents-NM
What is the role of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources with respect to oil and natural gas in New Mexico?
We play multiple roles with respect to oil and natural gas in New Mexico. For one thing, we act as a repository for well information, including cores and drill cuttings, which may be used by anyone interested in oil and natural gas exploration and production. These data are used frequently in exploration and production activities as well as in the formulation of environmentally acceptable drilling and production strategies. Our customers range from major and independent exploration and production companies to state and federal regulatory agencies to the general public. We also undertake and publish scientific research aimed at understanding geologic controls on oil and gas occurrence and distribution within the state. Recently, this research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the New Mexico State Land Office, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Recent projects range from investigating the oil and gas potential of frontier areas in east-central New Mexico to identifying applications of advanced technologies for enhancing oil production from old oil fields in southeastern New Mexico and identifying future areas of research needed for the production of unconventional gas. We have also produced research that will be very useful in the identification of helium gas resources. Like our data, the research is used to provide information and ideas that will help guide exploration and production. Our research is utilized frequently by industry as well as state and federal agencies and the general public. Assistance to exploration and production entities results in tax and royalty revenues to the state. In addition, we play a significant role in higher education by teaching courses in petroleum geology at New Mexico Tech and involving graduate and undergraduate students in our research programs. We are always willing to provide an unbiased scientific viewpoint on oil and gas matters to any who desire it.