As part of its “Lunch and Learn Careers Lecture Series,” the University of New Mexico School of Law invited professor Alex Ritchie to speak Monday, in a talk geared toward students interested in pursuing a career in oil and gas law, environmental law or water resources law.
Ritchie, the Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, said oil and gas production involves so many steps that countless areas of expertise are needed during this process. He recently taught at UNM’s School of Law for five years, focusing on oil and gas law, property law and business law.
“I am here to speak to students about the career opportunities in oil and gas law and environmental law. I am also here to encourage students to keep learning after they leave law school,” Ritchie said.
His presentation focused on the processes of extracting oil from the ground to pumping the oil into a car. He demonstrated how many different lawyers are involved in this long process, from environmental lawyers to title lawyers.
“Oil and gas law involves understanding the legality of fracking, climate change and other potential climate dangers,” Ritchie said.
Audience member Adrian Oglesby is the the director of Utton Transboundary Resource Center, a law policy center in New Mexico.
He said it is important to have an understanding of all aspects of resource law if you are interested in environmental law, oil and gas law or water resources law, because they are all interconnected.
The Utton Transboundary Resource Center is a close partner with the UNM School of Law and gives students the opportunity to conduct research and gain experience.
The center primarily focuses on water law, but also works with oil and gas, renewable energy and food law, Oglesby said.
“We are a resource and public service center, advisors to the state legislature and governor’s office and water agencies,” he said. “We try to create a learning experience with opportunities out of our center, and that’s how we connect back to the UNM law school.”
Working with water law also means understanding oil and gas law is important, Oglesby said.
“Water, in particular, intersects with other natural resource issues. Understanding water law and who owns that water and what to do with it is key to being a(n) oil and gas lawyer and environmental lawyer,” he said.
According to Ritchie, lawyers are involved throughout every step of the process of oil and gas production.
When oil is going to be pumped, environmental lawyers go through a processes called due diligence, he said. During this process the environmental lawyers go through many steps, including obtaining an access agreement to see if the land has oil, assessment to find out if the oil that will be drilled has already been contaminated and finding out if the proposed area of land for drilling has endangered species.
This are just some of the things that an environmental lawyer would go through on behalf of their client, Ritchie said.
One of the other complicated aspects of oil and gas law is that the people who own the surface land are not usually the owners of the mineral rights, or the land below the surface. This aspect will usually involve property law lawyers, Ritchie said.
“Oil and gas law combine environmental law, property law and torts law,” he said.
Oil and gas drilling companies tend to buy out other companies. When this happens, tax lawyers and employment lawyers become involved. Additionally, because oil drilling impacts landowners, lawyers often protect the landowners’ interests.
These are just some of the examples that other areas of expertise is involved in the process, Ritchie said.
After the location of the oil beneath the ground has been specifically located, a drilling permit is obtained from the state and the drilling process begins. Most oil and gas drilling involves hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Wells produce water, oil and gas and so these substances have to be seperated in order to be used, he said.
“Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is when water and sand are pumped into a well in order to make the gas oil and water inside of the well come up to the surface. It often takes thousands of truckloads of water in order to complete a fracking job. During fracking the well produces more emissions,” Ritchie said.
After fracking has occurred the well will start to produce oil and gas, he said. When gas from the oil wells are pumped to the surface, in the past that gas has either been released into the air or it has been burned.
“In 2012 the Obama administration passed an administrative law preventing the releasing of gas or the burning it. However, these laws are no longer in place or enforced in the current administration,” Ritchie said.
He said he encourages students to get involved with these topics by attending conferences and participating in research, he said.
Whatever your area of expertise, if you are practicing law, the work you do will likely intersect with environmental law or oil and gas law — if not both, Ritchie said.
Megan Holmen is a freelance reporter for news and culture at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or on twitter @megan_holmen.