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New Mexico State Exploration (4-NM-a)

The process for gaining rights to conduct exploration activities in New Mexico depends on the nature of the proposed activities and the ownership of the land. Where the exploration activities are invasive to the ground, developers are required to initiate the Drilling and Well Development:
process. Prior to applying for a State Geothermal Lease:
, developers may want to conduct exploration activities on the land. Where the activities are not invasive, no permit is needed unless the project is on state trust land. When on state trust land, developers must apply for a permit to conduct geophysical exploration. Once awarded, the developer may enter onto the land for the limited purpose of quantitative physical study of the earth by reflection and refraction seismic (including dynamite sources), gravity, magnetic, electrical, electromagnetic or radiation methods. After conducting exploration activities permissible under the permit, developers have more complete information to make future investment decisions. NMAC 19.2.17.

State Exploration Process

4-NM-a.1 to 4-NM-a.2 Will only non-invasive exploration be conducted?

Non-invasive exploration is exploration that does not significantly damage or alter the land (i.e. reflection seismology or satellite surveys). If the developer will conduct exploration using drilling, then they must initiate the Drilling and Well Development:
process through the Oil Conservation Division of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Invasive exploration would include a proposal to drill a core hole to gather geothermal data, including heat flow, temperature gradients, and rock conductivity. NMAC 19.14.21.

4-NM-a.3 to 4-NM-a.4 Is the Project on State Trust Lands?

If the exploration activity is non-invasive and not on state trust lands then no permit is needed.

4-NM-a.5 Application for Permit to Conduct Geophysical Exploration

If the exploration activity is on state trust lands, even if non-invasive, developers must apply for a Geophysical Exploration Permit through the New Mexico State Land Office. A copy of the NMSLO Application for Permit to Conduct Geophysical Exploration on Unleased State Lands is provided. Applications must include all applicable fees as outlined in the application, a topographic map showing all survey lines proposed to cross state trust lands, and a proposed survey operations plan. When the proposed survey method includes the use of explosives, applications are subject to additional requirements.

4-NM-a.6 to 4-NM-a.7 Review Application Materials for Completeness

The Commissioner of Public Lands (Commissioner) will only conduct a substantive review of complete applications. 19.2.17.

4-NM-a.8 to 4-NM-a.9 Review Application Materials

Once an application is complete, the Commissioner will review all materials and determine whether issuing a geophysical exploration permit is in the best interest of the trust. If the Commissioner approves, all application documents are incorporated into the permit by reference and may offer additional terms and conditions a developer must consent to in order to execute the permit. Geophysical Exploration Permits are valid for ninety days from the date of approval by the Commissioner.

The following requirements apply to exploratory permit terms and conditions:

  • Source lines and receiver lines must be no greater than 100 feet in width;
  • Motorized vehicles are not allowed off established ranch roads or off the permitted and surveyed source and receiver lines;
  • The developer must at all times keep the permit area free and clear of trash and debris resulting from the developer's occupation of the lands;
  • Unless authorized by the Commissioner in writing, a permit does not authorize the use of trust lands for operation staging areas or for vehicle maintenance yards;
  • No access is granted to trust lands for any purpose without valid permits or agreements;
  • Permits may contain specific requirements for reclamation, such as bank stabilization for watercourses and road repair; and
  • The developer must comply with all applicable laws, regulations, rules, ordinances and requirements of city, county, state, and federal authorities and agencies, in all matters and things affecting the permit area and operations, including but not limited to conservation, sanitation, aesthetics, pollution, cultural properties, fire and ecology.

In addition, after permit execution but before commencing exploration activity, developers must provide the Commissioner with financial assurance to secure payment for potential injuries to improvements on the permitted area. The minimum amount of assurance is $5,000 and may only be waived by all owners of the improvements on the land. [NMAC 19.2.17 Geophysical Exploration on Unleased State Trust Lands

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Contact Information


Edit New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department
State Exploration and Well Development Contact 505.476.3490 Visit Website