New Mexico Residents Complain About Oil and Gas Drilling

April 16, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico. (Photo via Pixabay)

Members of a U.S. House committee advocated for stricter oil and natural gas drilling regulations during a hearing Monday in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Democrats on the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources said lax regulations are creating too much air pollution and depriving residents of income.

The Democrats invited Republicans to attend the field hearing but none of them responded.

Native Americans who testified at the hearing said the pollution was damaging some of their sacred sites, such as the Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

“If there is increased oil and gas development in the Chaco region there will be increased risk for disturbance of the structures and artifacts,” said Myron Lizer, vice president of the Navajo Nation. “Waste from oil and gas extraction can further contaminate the region. Increased truck traffic as well as gas powered machinery can also negatively impact air quality.”

Before the hearing, congressmen visited the Chaco park to view plumes of methane with infrared cameras rising into the sky from a nearby industrial site.

“You could see the plumes coming out and moving across the sky,” said Representative Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., during the hearing.

New Mexico Democrats recently introduced a bill in Congress to halt new oil and gas leases within 10 miles of Chaco park.

Lujan estimated his state was losing as much as $47 million a year from releases of methane that could have been sold to consumers instead of flared out of oil and gas wells.

The Trump administration wants to allow more of the leases on federal lands nationwide for economic development.

More than 130 wells now dot the landscape within the proposed buffer zone around Chaco park, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The U.S. Interior Department proposes eliminating 2016 Environmental Protection Agency rules that require energy companies to reduce flaring of methane.

Some states, such as New Mexico, are trying to develop their own regulations to reduce flaring and leakage. They propose giving state oilfield regulators broader authority to issue citations and fines.

In addition, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed legislation intended to move the state toward wider use of renewable energies, such as solar and wind, instead of oil and gas.

“In 2014, scientists from NASA and the University of Michigan discovered the most concentrated plume of methane pollution anywhere in the country over the San Juan Basin in northwest New Mexico,” Grisham said in her congressional testimony. “Further research from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has shown that the vast majority of this methane pollution is attributable to oil and gas development.”

The difference between federal and state plans for handling oil and gas drilling has set up conflicts that are playing out in lawsuits and the congressional hearing this week.

Representative Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., said the hearing in Santa Fe would be the first of several congressional field hearings across western states to assess how oil and gas development was affecting the environment.

“Across the west the availability of oil and gas has been both a blessing and a curse,” Lowenthal said. “These resources are a major component of the economy in many parts of the country.”

However, the economic benefits can have “consequences to our air, to our water, to our climate, to our health, and to wild, natural places and to sacred sites,” he said.

No members of the oil and gas industry testified during the hearing in the offices of the New Mexico State Legislature.

Link to congressional oil and gas hearing: https://naturalresources.house.gov/hearings/oil-and-gas-development-impacts-on-air-pollution-and-sacred-site

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