NM Conservation Committee Rolls Over Frontline Communities needing a Pause on Fracking for Protections
“The protection of the state's beautiful and healthful environment is hereby declared to be of fundamental importance to the public interest, health, safety, and the general welfare. The legislature shall provide for control of pollution and control of despoilment of the air, water and other natural resources of this state, consistent with the use and development of these resources for the maximum benefit of the people.”
-Article XX, Section 21 of the New Mexico Constitution.
Santa Fe, NM: The Conservation Committee Meeting rolled over the bill on Feb 26th, before an overflowing room. Chairman Joseph Cervantes’ (D-Dona Ana) refused to hear public comment then rescheduled the bill for another day. No vote was taken on the bill. The New Mexico Senate Conservation Committee displayed to the people of New Mexico that immediate profits for the oil and gas industry are far more important than clean water, air, and the health of our children.
Sponsored by Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Bernalillo) and co-sponsored by Senators Benny Shendo Jr. (D-Jemez), William Soules (D-Dona Ana), Nancy Rodriguez (D-Santa Fe), and Representatives Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Bernalillo), Senate Bill 459 would amend the Oil and Gas Act to include a definition of “hydraulic fracturing” (fracking) and put a four-year moratorium on new hydraulic fracking permits in the state while seven state agencies study the impacts of multi-stage fracking and horizontal drilling in New Mexico.
Spurred by a January 31, 2019, NM Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department presentation to the Senate Conservation Committee where it was revealed that state agencies do not distinguish or regulate horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracturing differently from conventional vertical drilling, Vice-Chair Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez felt it was her constitutional obligation to enable New Mexicans to regulate the booming oil and gas industry transparently, and responsibly for the maximum benefit of all people.
“This is a question of truth, who possesses it, and whose truth we trust,” said Senator Sedillo Lopez. “Unless we pass this bill, we are all crossing our fingers, praying, and hoping that an industry solely concerned with maximizing its quarterly profit report is giving our state lawmakers the full and unadulterated truth about the impacts that their extractive industry is having on our land, water, and air.”
When passed, Senate Bill 459 would mark the first time since 1935 that New Mexico’s oil and gas regulations have been updated. As Trump advances his federal “Energy Dominance” agenda, New Mexico, now the third highest oil and gas producing state in the nation, is exporting its oil and gas resources overseas while the state continues to rank highest in the nation for unemployment, poor public education, and child poverty.
As the New Mexico Legislature weighs a bill that to impose a four-year moratorium on fracking in the state, we thought it would be useful to take a look at just how dangerous and destructive fracking is in the Land of Enchantment.
To this end, we mapped out spills, gas releases, fires, blowouts, and other incidents reported by the oil and gas industry in 2018 to state regulators. As you might imagine, the data is horrendous. It shows that in 2018, 1,514 incidents were reported by the oil and gas industry. Check out the map below or click here to view the full version. That amounts to over four spills per day in 2018.
The scope of the disaster unfolding in New Mexico’s oil and gas producing regions, which include the Greater Chaco region in the northwest and the Greater Carlsbad Caverns region in the southeast, is staggering. Over 114,000 wells blanket these areas today. State and municipal governments alike have failed to address the impacts of rampant fossil fuel extraction on the cultural landscape or engage in meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and indigenous communities living on allotments and trust lands. Support letters for SB 459 came from All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), Native American Democratic Caucus (NADC), the Greater Chaco Chapter House, Tewa Women United, and Navajo Nation Councillor Daniel Tso, along with 14 ally groups throughout New Mexico.
NM Senator Benny Shendo, Jr. represents District 22, which includes the Greater Chaco area, home to the Eastern Navajo. His district is also home to the Jicarilla Apache, and the Jemez, Zia, San Felipe, and Santa Ana Pueblo Tribal Nations. "My constituents live in San Juan and Sandoval Counties, and I've travelled those roads," says Senator Shendo. "I've seen what's going on. These are issues that my people are dealing with every day. It should come as no surprise as to why I signed on to this bill. At the end of the day, I have to protect my people. I have to protect what's important, to our Pueblo world and to many others. Chaco Canyon is a World Heritage site...The mineral belt cuts through my district. We still have legacy waste from uranium mining. Companies come in and extract the resources, and I don't think many of these companies even exist today. Our Native communities are left with that legacy waste and now we have to deal with it. We need to live up to our responsibility to protect the resources that are bequeathed to us, so we can bequeath to our children the clean air and clean water and our spiritual and cultural way of life. That's important to us."
The current air pollutant standards set by the US and endorsed the State of New Mexico do not meet the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) or the European Union (EU). Moreover, current US regulations generally allow pollutant levels that are much higher than what the science on air pollution has shown are safe. Pollutants such as particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), NO2, SO4 and ozone have been shown to impact health throughout life, including as potential drivers of slower neurodevelopment, cancers, cardiovascular disease, stroke and dementias. The legislative committee did not allow testimony on unconventional gas exposure impacts from fracking in frontline communities of the Greater Chaco region.
Also curtailed by the Conservation Committee was our expert testimony from neuroscientist Charles Gasparovic. His presentation summarized several peer-reviewed studies on air pollution’s effects on the human body and brain, from infants to the elderly, and outlined how existing regulations do not reflect the current science nor meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards. The WHO estimates that there are nearly 7 million deaths every year from air pollution.
There is inadequate monitoring of air pollutants at fracking sites. We need not only data collection but studies to assess the health impact of these emissions in order to revise regulations and create new standards that give adequate protections to New Mexicans. Findings on various studies show relationships between pediatric asthma or exposure to carcinogenic compounds and proximity to fracking wells.
The case for a moratorium on new permits in New Mexico seems obvious with the oil and gas industry seemingly incapable of preventing spills and other incidents. It’s high time to put the brakes on this ongoing devastation.
“With their blatant disregard for the health and safety of millions of New Mexicans, this legislature has passed on an opportunity to finally learn the truth and regulate fracking,” stated Senator Sedillo Lopez after the vote. “By opposing a pause for protections, New Mexico legislators are allowing for a high risk of contamination of the drinking water supply for Rio Rancho, the Albuquerque Basin, and elsewhere in the state in order to accomodate oil and gas interests. By not properly regulating air monitoring on fossil fuel industry we are jeopardizing the health of thousands of New Mexicans and impacting their quality of life and their life-span. The continued onslaught of unfettered fracking threatens the Greater Chaco landscape and further exacerbates sinkholes in Greater Carlsbad which are already costing taxpayers upwards of $42 million.”
The oil and gas industry has donated over $1.23 million to political campaigns in New Mexico in 2018 alone. While oil companies were making record profits in 2018, the amount of venting and flaring from fracking wells doubled in New Mexico and NM Oil Conservation Division reported an increase in industry’s self-reported incidents, averaging more than four spills per day.
“New Mexican politicians, including Democrats, are far more concerned with their loyalty to special interest funders than they are to our children and the future of our aquifers and air quality,” said Elaine Cimino of Common Ground Rising. “The State of New Mexico must uphold its sworn duty to protect the health, safety, and environment of New Mexico and today it failed the people.”
“Despite the antics of the committee chairman, we will continue to hold elected officials accountable to protect our public health, our water, our land, and our climate,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “The oil and gas industry continues to rig public policy as New Mexico decision makers allow industrialized fracking to run roughshod over communities, with zero accountability to the public.”
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