CARLSBAD, N.M. — Work to prevent a massive sinkhole from opening on the edge of Carlsbad could end up costing more than $40 million, according to a group of experts working on the problem.
The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports the new price tag for remediation and other work at a former brine well is the result of the latest budget proposal developed by the Carlsbad Brine Well Remediation Advisory Authority. The estimate has grown over the years, as initial projections pegged the work at about $25 million.
The latest estimate comes amid contract negotiations with a company that submitted a proposal for filling the decommissioned well, which was closed in 2008 when the ground was deemed unstable. Brine wells hold saltwater for oil and gas operations and leave behind underground caverns.
“The amount is more than it was before,” Authority Chair John Heaton said during a recent meeting. “We don’t know what could happen. I thought it best to be seeking a little more than what we were (seeking) six or seven years ago. We don’t know what the real bid is.”
Money for the remediation would come from several sources over four years, and some of that funding would depend on legislation that is expected to be introduced during the upcoming session.
The authority is seeking to tap the state’s oil reclamation fund, the New Mexico Environment Department’s Corrective Action Fund and the state’s water project fund.
Other sources could include conservation taxes from the oil and gas industry and a possible appropriation of state general funds, if lawmakers agree to it.
Federal funds would depend on whether the well on Carlsbad’s southern edge is determined to be a man-made or natural disaster. Officials say those funds also are capped at $4 million and can be acquired only when the rest of the project’s balance is identified.
Heaton called on Carlsbad leaders and residents to travel to Santa Fe to help lobby for the needed funding during the 30-day legislative session that begins Tuesday.
“If we’re not there, it looks like we don’t care,” he said. “We really need people up there.”
Aside from funding, authority committee members reported the project was moving closer to a contractor. Negotiations are expected to wrap up in a week or two.
The committee also discussed the potential damage the well’s collapse could cause. The well is situated near the junction of U.S. 285 and Highway 62/180. It is also beneath a canal that supplies water to most of southern Eddy County’s farmers.
Carlsbad Irrigation District manager Dale Ballard said the collapse would cut off water to 80 percent of the district’s users for up to three years. He said plans were suggested to move the canal to the south, but that could prove challenging as the land in that area is privately owned.
“This is a very scary thing for our water users when they look at this,” he said.
To prevent risks to motorists, Eddy County Commissioner Stella Davis said the county is considering building a bypass road, but she acknowledged funding was a concern.
Information from: Carlsbad Current-Argus, http://www.currentargus.com/