ARTESIA, N.M. — Watching grass grow seems to take forever — especially in New Mexico’s desert. But Devon Energy Corp. is willing to take that time, and its efforts are paying off in restored grasslands at the locations of Permian Basin natural gas and oil wells it’s drilled in the southeast part of the state. The company has been working on the reclamation program as part of a bigger effort of best management practices with New Mexico’s Bureau of Land Management. The reclamation process takes time, said Don Mayberry, Devon Energy’s superintendent in Artesia. "This country is hard to reclaim. It has very little topsoil, and very little moisture. And some places where we work, it is very rocky,” Mayberry said. "On those locations, you have to blast and then rake the rock up. Trying to reclaim those is very tough. It is a challenge.”
Noticed for its workDevon Energy earns awards for that work, though, from both professional and government organizations. Two awards in particular were given to the Oklahoma City-based company this year — one from the Bureau of Land Management for a Technology-based, Holistic Approach to Oil and Gas Development, and another from the U.S. Department of Interior, which gave its Interior Cooperative Conservation Award to New Mexico’s Bureau of Land Management and Devon for their reclamation partnership. As part of the latter program, Devon worked with New Mexico to restore land near oil or natural gas wells by removing pits and other oil-field scars and then planting it with seed to bring back desert vegetation that supports prairie chicken and sand dunes lizards.
Being patientMuch of the restoration work involved older wells drilled by previous operators that Devon acquired. Devon also worked with New Mexico’s Bureau of Land Management to improve other, abandoned locations. "We just stepped up to help out,” Mayberry said. So far, the company has remediated about 20 areas. "Instead of just having a clear spot out there where a rig was at, we try to get it back to this rangeland, but it is difficult,” said Wyatt Abbitt, a Devon operations engineering manager. "This stuff takes years and years to grow. So we plant, and we water it, and set it up as best we can. Then, we have to let nature take its course.”