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Articles by Mark Olalde, ProPublica

Mark Olalde is a reporter at ProPublica covering the environment in the Southwest.

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Last year, representatives of New Mexico’s oil industry met behind closed doors with the very groups with which they typically clash — state regulators and environmentalists — in search of an answer to the more than 70,000 wells sitting unplugged across the state. Many leak oil, brine and toxic or explosive gasses, and more than 1,700 have already been left to the public to clean up.

The situation is so dire that oil companies agreed to help try to find a solution.

After months of negotiations, the state regulators who ran the meetings emerged with a proposal that they hoped would appease everyone in the room. The bill would instruct drillers to set aside more money to plug their wells, authorize regulators to block risky sales to companies that would be unlikely to afford to clean up their wells and implement a buffer zone between wells and hospitals, schools, homes and other buildings.

The industry, unhappy with the state’s final language, turned against the bill it helped shape.

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