AZTEC — By a 4 to 1 vote, commissioners approved a permit application by BP America Production Company to plug and abandon a well pad located on city property at the entrance of Tiger Park.

A misunderstanding over BP's requirement to obtain a permit before plugging and abandoning the well, first operated in 1966, raised questions during a land-use hearing at City Hall over the well on Tuesday.

City officials said BP did not obtain the necessary permit from the city's Community Development office prior to doing the work.

"I think there was just a miscommunication with changes in the Community Development office," said Planning Technician Michelle Morgan, who told commissioners that she learned the work was already in progress on June 2 from Jerry Van Ripper, surface land negotiator for BP America Production Company. Morgan ordered BP to finish the work and apply for the permit, which costs $510 and was filed by BP on June 5.

"They already had the rig on site and due to safety concerns, they could not stop operations after it was in progress," Morgan said.

The failure to seek city approval for the work drew questions from commissioners.

"I think it's a little more significant than you just didn't get a permit," Commissioner Roberta Locke, who was the sole dissenting vote, said to Van Ripper. "I find it hard to believe they didn't know to get a permit first."

Locke asked if fines for conducting the plug-and-abandon operation without a city permit were possible. Mayor Sally Burbridge told Locke that no fines were stipulated in city code.

"This is a federal mineral (site) so we filed with the BLM," Van Ripper told commissioners.

Terms of the city's land use permit require BP to go ahead with reclaiming work at no city expense, including removal of perimeter fencing, grading of the quarter-acre well pad and reseeding the well site. That work will be done under the supervision of Bureau of Land Management officials. BLM land abuts the well site to the south.

Commissioner Katee McClure asked if people near the well were notified.

"On June 23 a letter went out, but they were beyond a moot point," said City Manager Joshua Ray. "They were a waste of paper and time by us."

Regulations for public notice go out to neighbors within 400 feet of the well site to alert them of the work. No residents live that close. Morgan said that only the high school and BP itself were notified by mail of the work, albeit after the work was already completed.

"If there are people in the area, then they have the right to know," McClure said. "Even if we don't regulate it ourselves, that they have a right to know. And we don't really know what occurred because it's already been done."

Plugging the 1966 gas well, called Storey B LS Number 8, was purely financial, said Van Ripper.

"These wells decline over time ... they start making profitable gas production and they then decline with use," Van Ripper said. "It costs us more to operate it, so it's lifespan is over."

Brett Clanton, a BP spokesman, said plugging and abandoning wells is common.

"BP is taking steps to safely and permanently secure the well through a common industry process known as plug and abandonment," Clanton said. "If approved, BP will then take further steps to restore the well site to its original condition. We will continue to work closely with community leaders throughout this process. BP is committed to safe, reliable and compliant operations in every community where it has a presence."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.