Saturday, February 13, 2010

The human impacts of oil and gas development in Northern New Mexico

I recently attended a meeting in Mora with two guest speakers from San Juan County. The sadness and sense of loss experienced by these ranchers is incredibly saddening.
San Juan County was once primarily agricultural and farm oriented. Over time however, development by the oil and gas industry has changed it from a green and abundant county to a devastated landscape of gas wells and frac pits. While regulations governing the oil and gas industry are minimal at best, the ones that do exist tend not to be enforced. Well, they are enforced when it comes to protecting the interests of industry, but landowners and ranchers complaints and issues are often ignored. Industry's big sell to counties they wish to drill in is the monetary gain. According to one of the ranchers that spoke during the meeting I attended, San Juan County has an unemployment rate of 30%-40%. Land use is now mostly limited to oil and gas development so the county is almost completely dependent on the oil and gas industry. You cannot farm or ranch safely or lucratively when your cattle can drink from open frac pits and your water supply and quality has been adversely impacted by the process and byproducts of drilling.
San Juan County has 40,000 natural gas wells. As one rancher told me, there is no hope for San Juan, the devastation is irreparable and they will do the same thing here [Mora and San Miguel Counties] if we let them.
So, from first-hand accounts of oil and gas development, some of the things we know are:
Existing regulations lack proper enforcement.
Drilling adversely affects economic security and diversity.
Improperly regulated drilling is incompatible with farming and agricultural land uses.
Industry is NOT a good neighbor.
Industry can stay as long as they want, and do whatever they want.
Oil and gas development does not bring jobs to a county's citizens; they often import their own labor force.
With an imported labor force comes a rise in crime rates.
Lives and previous sustaining ways of living can be destroyed by oil and gas development.
A pipeline carrying highly pressurized and explosive natural gas can be buried on your property as little as four inches deep.
If a landowner accidentally punctures or damages a pipeline, they are liable for all costs incurred by the incident.

These facts are applicable to residents of New Mexico. And I have little doubt that many of them apply to counties across the country as well.
Can you say, regulations and enforcement are necessary now?!