Environmentalists from New Mexico’s major oil and gas regions called on the state to strengthen oil and gas regulations amid a pause on new leases of public land for fossil fuel development instituted by President Joe Biden’s administration.
During a Wednesday press conference with stakeholder groups from the Permian Basin in the southeast region and Chaco Canyon area to the northwest, advocates voiced support for the temporary halt on leasing and called for increased funding for oversight of oil and gas.
Multiple speakers in the meeting voiced concern that New Mexico’s state leadership could seek a waiver from federal climate change actions, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her cabinet recently wrote public letters to the Biden administration explaining the economic harm that could be brought on through a disruption of fossil fuel production.
Gene Harbaugh of Citizens Caring for the Future, a local group in Carlsbad focused on the Permian Basin, said growing oil and gas development in the area could threaten local water supplies for another major New Mexico industry: agriculture.
“The advent of gas and oil exploration and extraction has led to the competition for water. Many farmers and rancher have sold water to the oil companies. When the oil boom subsides, it will not be possible to remediate the damage that has been done,” he said.
“The short term economic impacts need to be balance with effects on the land. The whole impact of the industry has played upon not only the vulnerability of the workers that come here, but also on the people who live here.”
The meeting came on the last day the U.S. Department of the Interior accepted public comments on its review of the federal oil and gas leasing program, and Carlsbad resident Kayley Shoup said federal energy policy should be reformed to protect local communities near oil and gas facilities.
She said the state and nation should work to transition away from fossil fuels to better protect the environment from pollution.
“It’s not easy to speak out in southeast New Mexico because the local economy is dependent on the oil and gas industry,” Shoup said.
“As a young New Mexican, I don’t want to have to continue have the conversation about diversifying the economy. We must stop simply talking about a green future and begin building one for the sake of our young people.”
Nathalie Eddy, a field organizer with national environmental group Earthworks said during multiple visits the Permian and Chaco Canyon areas, air-polluting emissions were witnessed as she use forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras to document releases of natural gas Eddy said could not be seen otherwise.
“In both corners of the state, day in and day out we’re finding oil and gas pollution everywhere we go. Finding this pollution and what we’re seeing is coming from big and small operators,” Eddy said. “This business as usual is going to spell climate destruction for the rest of us.”
She said the State lacked adequate resources for oversight of oil and gas.
“When it comes to enforcement in New Mexico, the state regulatory agencies are no match for the industry. They simply can’t hold the industry accountable,” Eddy said.
“While this isn’t news, it is an urgent call to activism. The harm is disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities like the Permian and San Juan basins.”
Julia Bernal of the Pueblo Action Alliance based northwest New Mexico said the federal Bureau of Land Management – an arm of the DOI – should amend its resource management plan for the area to prioritize Tribal issues and environmental protections over fossil fuel extraction.
She said oil and gas development in the San Juan Basin caused alarming levels of air pollutants and the government should step in to repair the damage and prevent future environmental harm.
“The oil and gas program review is extremely long overdue as Pueblo youth have spoken out against the use and exploitation of fossil fuels because this isn’t the future our young people want,” Bernal said.
“We support and advocate for an Indigenous perspective as we continue to strategize and create solutions in order for us to mitigate climate change and absorb the shock of those climate stressers.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.