The current focus of the Northern New Mexico Conservation Project is educating people about the importance of preserving natural resources, especially as related to oil and gas development. In doing so, we have found that it is important to inform people about the unfavorable impacts when natural resources are exploited for financial gain without strict regulations to minimize the effects on our water, air, environment, and health.
There is currently a big push to drill for natural gas in the United States. It is loudly touted as the next big step in clean energy development. What is not generally spoken about is how hazardous the process of drilling for natural gas is to water supplies, the environment, and health.
Natural gas wells are drilled using a process known as hydraulic fracturing. A brief explanation of how it works is that millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and over 300 chemicals (many of which full composition is not known due to their "proprietary" classification) is forced into the ground to fracture shale below the surface and create a natural gas well. Oftentimes, much of this toxic stew remains underground. What does return to the surface is kept in open waste pits and/or put back into the earth in the form of injection wells. Leaving ample opportunity for both surface and underground water contamination.
The oil and gas industry is exempt from multiple federal laws and is no longer under the supervision of the EPA. This is why county ordinances like the one implemented by Santa Fe are so very important. Without such ordinances, communities are left at the mercy of industry destruction. It is also worth noting that there are approximately 60,000 natural gas wells in New Mexico and only six inspectors to monitor them all.
In an ideal world, it would be possible for citizens to simply say no to oil and gas drilling in their counties. But taking that stance is very dangerous. It opens counties and their citizens up to the possibility of being sued by industry on the grounds of "takings," basically the concept of taking away a property owners right to do as they wish with their own property. This is quite ironic given the fact that property owners who refuse to lease their mineral rights can be forced to do so if their neighbors have leased their mineral rights. This is known as forced pooling. Irony aside, the law stands, and strict ordinances for protection of citizens, their water, and their environment is absolutely essential. Many ordinances are completely ineffective at supplying the necessary levels of protection. Given this, any county that is currently experiencing oil and gas development, or is a prospective target of industry, should seriously investigate adopting a Santa Fe County model Oil and Gas Ordinance to preserve the health and safety of its citizens.
Representatives of the oil and gas industry often say that county regulations are nothing but an impediment and are unnecessary because there are state and federal regulations to insure the health and safety of communities. The regulations industry is referring to are minimal at best and often lack enforcement due to an overall shortage of resources in the regulatory bodies.
The oil and gas industry has a great public relations campaign which tells us about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, the revenues generated by oil and gas development, and their "good neighbor" programs. Yet, they fight tooth and nail against county-based regulations. County oil and gas ordinances, while ideally quite complex, serve the seemingly simple function of making sure that the oil and gas industry holds itself to its own professed standards of doing business.
The communities of Northern New Mexico are blessed with clean water, fresh air, and the natural beauty of our surroundings. Unregulated development of the oil and gas industry will destroy what is truly valuable and has sustained us for centuries. Leaving us with degraded water supplies, damaged environment, and a multitude of potentially deadly illnesses.