Pillar Three: Environment
Three parts: Air, Water, Soil (food)
New Mexico Democratic Party position:
“I support the use of clean energy and will train the workforce, create jobs, and support small businesses as we transition to a renewable energy infrastructure. We will position New Mexico as a key global hub for technology, manufacturing, and construction to join and accelerate the clean energy transition as a means to protect air, land, and water, and stop the worst effects of climate change.”
Air, water and food. These are the three essential things that every single life form on planet Earth requires to survive.
We are in a moment in time where we must start taking real, hard looks at what we are doing to the only place in the known universe capable of supporting life as we know it. We have birds falling out of the sky, rivers so toxic the only thing that will thrive is predatory red algae, soil so polluted that nothing will grow. We are seeing increased rates of cancer, respiratory illnesses, and autoimmune diseases, globally.
One of the primary reasons we moved to the mountains of New Mexico is because the air quality in Austin, TX had become unbearably bad for my health. I am allergic to smog. It makes me chronically ill and I cannot be around it for long before I begin to suffer. This is why I am driven to work as hard as I can to make sure New Mexico does not tread the same road.
We cannot survive without air. We cannot survive in air that does not contain the proper mix of elements: Oxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, and other trace elements. We cannot survive in air that contains methane or sulfur compounds in excess, or other waste materials currently vented freely to the atmosphere in southeastern New Mexico.
By abusing the air we breathe, we abuse ourselves. This is not a partisan issue. This is not about points of view. This is a real, immediate, and critical threat.
Methane & other greenhouse gases:
According to a U.S. News and World Report article, ER visits in Southeastern New Mexico are higher than in any part of the state, mainly due to respiratory issues.
From the Carlsbad Current-Argus in January of 2018:
“In the Permian Basin region of West Texas and southeast New Mexico, the data shows VOC pollution increased six times, while benzene emissions – a product of natural gas – grew 68 times since 2011.
Residents in the studied regions reported various medical issues that researchers suggested were the result of VOC and smog pollution.
In Reeves County, Texas – just over the state’s northern border with New Mexico and in the Permian Basin – an elderly couple living in the town of Balmorhea reported trouble breathing months after several oil wells began operations near their home.”
As hundreds of new wells and natural gas capture rigs have popped up since this article was written, the situation has only gotten worse. As of April 2019, methane emissions in the Permian Basin stand at 1.1 million metric tons of methane being vented directly into our air by the oil & gas industry.
“The Permian Basin has become the pre-eminent, most active drilling basin of anywhere in the country,” said Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund. “We wondered, ‘What is that doing to statewide methane emissions?’ ”
The new analysis estimates annual methane emissions of just over a million metric tons (1.1 million U.S. tons) linked to oil and natural gas facilities including well pads, compression stations and pipelines — with the majority of emissions emanating from southeastern New Mexico.
A prior study by the Environmental Defense Fund based on 2015 data documented emission of about 570,000 annual metric tons across New Mexico.”
Methane is approximately 20 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Flaring methane is not a solution as it creates carbon dioxide as a by-product. Not to mention that methane is also “natural gas” and by flaring or venting it to atmosphere, we are losing around $300 Million in lost revenue / tax base because of it, all while increasing health problems and pollution in the air we breathe.
This situation, taken as a whole, is unsustainable, dangerous, and fortunately…currently reparable. We have the opportunity now to work WITH the extractive industries in our Oil & Gas producing areas to craft real, concrete solutions to the methane emissions issue and its direct impact on our communities.
I propose that we take advantage of and require the oil & gas industry to utilize technological solutions to not only capture but compress and re-use methane and other natural gases which currently either escape or are vented and flared into the atmosphere.
I propose that we establish a comprehensive, evidence -based air quality monitoring system and network in oil & gas production areas which will allow us to triangulate a leak from any production facility or well so that it can be immediately repaired.
I propose that we establish rigorous and aggressive air quality standards throughout the state to protect the air our citizens breathe.
I propose that we take seriously hard look at the components of our way of life that drive our continued reliance on fossil fuels. We need to revamp industries which rely on fossil fuels, retool our production and transportation methods, and recognize that we are running out of time to take action.
I propose that we begin evaluating industries such as hemp refinement which can replace many petroleum-based items used in our current way of life such as plastic, various industrial oils, water gobbling cotton, etc. There are technologies available now that can transform hemp into innumerable products that are cleaner & safer to produce, biodegradable & compostable, and generally healthier overall. We need to find strategies to overcome over reliance on petroleum-based products if we are to reduce the impact the industry has on our state.
I propose that we properly incentivize the oil and gas industry to adopt and innovate around clean energy and clean industrial processes and methodologies. We also need to take a serious look at impact fees to be paid by the industry for cleaning up the environmental issues the industry has caused / causes.
I propose that we begin aggressively incentivizing clean, renewable energy industries to southeastern New Mexico, reducing our reliance on the oil & gas industry to provide good jobs.
I propose we aggressively begin curbing transportation emissions state-wide. Currently, there are no emissions tests or maximum emission limits on any vehicle registered to operate in this state. We need to establish standards and fund an emissions mandate for every vehicle. We need also to establish commercial operator standards for large trucks working in this state even if not currently registered in New Mexico. This includes vehicles from other states as well as trucking from Mexico. The only current emissions testing requirement in New Mexico for vehicles is in Bernalillo County.
I propose we enact tax incentives for citizens who either purchase high MPG vehicles or retrofit a vehicle with high efficiency technology to reduce emissions.
I propose we seriously consider electric high-speed mass transit /cargo trains which travel between population centers across the state thereby decreasing vehicular road travel which, in turn, reduces emissions.
I propose that we consider creating community solar grids on the roofs of our homes and businesses, fortify and build new electric grids and storage facilities for on-time, immediate electric delivery when needed. This reduces our reliance on large, polluting fossil fueled power plants.
I propose we explore other methods of energy production beyond solar and wind such as geothermal, landfill methane capture, etc.
I propose that we begin to exercise our power as citizens of southeastern New Mexico and not fall prey to fear seeded by these industries…specifically the threat that they will leave and go to Texas. The last time I checked, a horizontal well has a maximum drill length of only a few miles at best. The deposits in New Mexico are not possible to reach from Texas. This is a fear tactic. We have what these corporations want. We are not powerless in this scenario and have standing to demand that the extractive industries behave in such a way that they are not actively harming us.
A major component of living in the middle of a literal desert is dust. It is the primary source for particulate matter in the air in southeastern New Mexico.
While we cannot control the fact that there is dust in the desert, we can mitigate the amounts caused by trucks out in the oil patch by constructing a proper network of paved roads to / from major production areas.
I propose that we work with the industry to create a network of transportation methods geared toward efficiency and mitigation of dust pollution/ combustion fume emissions created by inadequate transportation methods.
I propose we work with environmental conservation groups to not only assess damage to desert environments caused by the extractive industries but seek their assistance to repair and mitigate future damage to the desert ecosystem going forward. Healthy scrub deserts like the Chihuahuan Desert are covered in foliage which reduces the amount of free dust available to become airborne. If we look after the desert, it will look after us.
In the western part of the district in the mountain communities, we have an entirely different issue, and that is forest fire. I live in the Sacramento Mountains near Cloudcroft. Fire is an ever-present and looming concern year-round.
After years of drought and a devastating bark beetle incursion, the forests are one giant tinderbox as we have acres and acres of older growth dead trees both standing and fallen. Fires are fast moving and difficult to contain. This, of course, contributes directly to air quality in the Sacramento Mountain region.
Not only is smoke a contributing factor, but deforestation as a result of devastating wildfires reduces the ability of the forests to serve as air filters for other forms of life. Healthy, robust tree stands produce the majority of the oxygen we breathe.
I propose that we work with conservation groups, forest services at every level, and governmental bodies at every level to prioritize, organize, and fully fund reforestation and restoration efforts. For every tree that burns, a new one should be planted.
I propose that we bolster the ranks of forest rangers and other conservation authoritative bodies to monitor the condition and health of the forest ecosystems and give them the authority to take action where needed.
I propose that we take a hard look at the current state of our firefighting systems in this part of the district. The vast majority of our firefighters are volunteer. While we are grateful that our fellow citizens are willing to put themselves in direct danger to protect the rest of us, we need to re-evaluate our firefighting systems as a whole. We need to have fully funded, robust firefighting strategies and resources in our mountain communities. We need to fully equip, train, and manage this life-saving work in every community here in the forests. Depending entirely on volunteers is short-sighted. It puts all of us, and the air we breathe, at risk.
The next item on our list which is vital to sustain life on planet Earth is water. We live in a desert. By definition, water is a scarce resource here. If our water is poisoned, we have no backup. We have no alternative but to abandon our homes and livelihoods. It is prudent and critical that we manage our water resources not only to help us now but ensure that we have it available for the future.
Fracking is a process by which a deep well is drilled, explosive charges are set off in the oil deposit, a brine solution…which we have no insight into the chemical makeup of as it is an industry “secret”…is injected at high pressure into the deposit to further fracture the rocks containing petroleum crude. The slurry is then extracted from the deposit along with the water which carries not only literal paydirt, but also really nasty chemicals such as radium, benzene, heavy metals like lead and arsenic, among other carcinogenic and poisonous substances. Often, the water that comes out with the shale slurry is left in retention ponds with direct ground contact.
“After the fracturing process, a percentage of the water returns fairly quickly to the surface as wastewater, also called “flowback.” The briny water that has long been underground and comes up during continued operation of the well, called “produced water,” can contain naturally occurring contaminants like the radioactive element radium, along with other heavy metals and salts. All of this wastewater is toxic and must be collected and stored; it then must be treated or discharged – or reinjected into a deep disposal well.
The wastewater is often pumped into holding ponds where it can leak and settle into surrounding groundwater, and impact wildlife. The contamination of groundwater is of major concern for those who live near drilling operations and rely on drinking water wells. And the contamination of watersheds that provide drinking water for millions of people in cities hundreds of miles away from any natural gas drilling sites poses a significant threat as well.”
Not only is this an immense danger to our watersheds and surface water, it can have a direct and permanent impact on our aquifers in 2 ways:
Extracting millions of gallons of fresh water from the aquifers which supply drinking water to the citizens of New Mexico reduces the supply below the threshold that it can be recharged with rainfall. Once the water is gone, it’s gone. From the same Water Footprint Calculator article cited above:
“Concern about the impact of fracking’s significant water use on local water resources, especially in dry lands, as well the potential for water pollution has led to a number of studies. Two recent studies from Duke University assessed the water footprint of the full life cycle (of each step) of the fracking process. The first study evaluated the median water use of six basins for shale-gas and shale oil and found that shale-gas water use ranged from 390,000 to 6.27 million gallons per well, while shale-oil use ranged from 70,000 to 2 million gallons of water per well.
Likewise, the second study reviewed six basins and charted the intensification of fracking’s water footprint, and found huge increases in both water use and wastewater in the years spanning 2011 to 2016. In that time, researchers found that water use per well rose by up to 770 percent while wastewater (flowback and produced water) volumes increased by a high of 1,440 percent within one year one of production.”
That’s 2 MILLION GALLONS of water PER WELL. The average person uses 80-100 gallons of water per day. The water used to produce ONE WELL would provide clean drinking water to one person for 55 years. According to the State of New Mexico Oil Conservation Division, there are 57, 296 active wells currently in New Mexico. Assuming each well uses 2 million gallons, that comes out to 114,592,000,000 gallons of water used to dig incredibly toxic substances out of the ground.
Average per person use is 100 gallons of water per day. Divide number of gallons used in wells by 100:
114,592,000,000 / 100 = 1,145,920,000 people water for one day.
Divide by 365, number of days per year:
1,145,920,000 /365= 3,139,507 people water for one year.
Divide by average life expectancy of 75 years:
3,139,507/75=41,860 people 100 gallons of water per day for 75 years.
This number represents approximately half of the current surge population of Carlsbad alone.
Carelessness and improper storage of produced water has significant probability of contaminating shallow fresh water sources, but also deep-water wells. The horizontal drilling process can sometimes reach for several miles underground, passing through aquifers. If a producer has an accident or there is a technical failure, we risk spillage of incredibly poisonous chemicals into the only water source we have.
Don’t take my word for it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency:
“EPA found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. The report identifies certain conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe:
Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
Spills during the handling of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;
Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;
Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water; and
Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.”
There is a push now, even amongst the industry to begin water reclamation, processing, and re-use. Some even advocate re-use for agricultural or drinking water. I am not convinced this is a good idea. Here is a document from the EPA showing how produced water can be recycled.
The bottom line, according to this and other sources, is that cleaning and recycling freshwater taken from our aquifers will only be done if it makes economic sense FOR THE BUSINESS, not because it is hurting those of us who live here.
I propose an immediate moratorium on freshwater removal from the aquifers and sales of freshwater to oil & gas companies until we can properly assess the damage that has already been caused. This includes private sales from private wells that draw on the aquifers. The main source of water for this area is the Ogallala, or Double Eagle aquifer. Once drained, it will take 6,000 years to recharge.
I propose we enact laws and statutes requiring Oil and gas companies to not only recycle the water they have already used, but also eliminate surface retention ponds which are known to leak and seep into the ground. We need to require the use of approved storage tanks to capture the flowback and require immediate reclamation processing.
I propose we immediately and severely limit the numbers of permits on new wells until the environmental impact is better understood.
I propose that before any new well is begun, the producer must submit an environmental impact and mitigation / remediation plan. We need to require the use of all available safety and recycling technology in this industry to protect our water, air, and soil.
I propose that the State of New Mexico bolster the authority of the Soil and Water Conservation Commission to aggressively monitor the industry. We need inspectors on the ground to hold producers accountable for their mishandling of these poisonous compounds.
I propose that we take a serious look at the penalties on the books for environmental abuse and mismanagement by corporations operating in New Mexico. We need to strengthen and actually enforce the rules.
The oil and gas industry, while providing the state with 42% of its overall revenue, has been allowed to run roughshod over the natural resources in this area which sustain life. If they will not be good corporate citizens under their own volition, we must force them to.
Holtec International proposed Nuclear Waste Storage Site
This entire situation concerns me greatly. While I recognize the need for a permanent, long-term spent nuclear fuel disposal site in the United States, I am not convinced that a ground level facility is in this area’s best interest.
I am also not convinced that Holtec as well as government leaders in this area fully recognize or appreciate the long-term issues that such a facility may pose. I want to understand what this looks like in 30 years, in 50 years, in 100 years. Concrete rots & metal rusts. People are careless and no system is 100% foolproof.
Furthermore, as we begin to see the weather pattern changes caused by global climate change, there is no way to predict how the landscape will be affected long term. We are beginning to see that storms are now longer in duration and more intense, flooding is a huge concern in flat country where flash floods are exceedingly dangerous. This does not pose an immediate threat when the facility is new as it is rated to hold intact even when bombed, but we have no way of knowing how well it will perform under the extreme weather conditions here in southeastern New Mexico over time. We have no data concerning water incursion and potential groundwater contamination due to water incursion.
I am presently not at all confident that this facility should be allowed to come here despite the 250 high paying jobs it comes with. This job number would account for only .003% of employment in Carlsbad once construction is completed. The cost/benefit equation simply doesn’t work. It is certainly not an industry that will amend job availability away from the oil industry or make much dent at all for purposes of stabilizing the local economy.
This is bad business.
I propose that we immediately halt further approvals and reopen an extended public comment period as many citizens in this area are not aware that this project is moving forward, or aware of it at all. This project directly impacts the health and safety of the community and should not be approved without the consent of the citizens.
Rural Water Quality oversight
We talk a lot about air and water pollution, but just as important is the literal earth beneath our feet. The southeastern corner of our state is slowly dying due to pollution. We have oil spills, insanely toxic solutions from extractive industry seeping into and poisoning our soil which contaminates the plants, contaminates the animals, and ultimately contaminates us.
Not only are we faced with the tremendous task of cleaning up after the oil & gas industry, we are also faced with PFAS contamination from fire containment exercises at our air force bases. These are deadly chemicals.
According to Westwise, New Mexico had 15,982 BARRELS of oil spill in 2018 ALONE. We also had 91,914 BARRELS of produced water spill during that same period. This is more than Colorado and Wyoming COMBINED. Since 2013, New Mexico has suffered with 8,532 spills. Not barrels, spills. This is gross negligence on the part of corporations and we as citizens pay for it with our health.
Pipelines are another huge issue as it is well known that crude oil pipelines are an environmental disaster waiting to happen. When you have highly toxic material flowing through enormous pipelines under pressure over hundreds of miles, basic engineering tells you there are going to be breaks. It’s simply the nature of the thing. When a pipeline like this breaks, it poisons the soil for generations. There is no cleaning up. There is no saving it.
I propose we fully fund and expand our state inspectors and environmental watchdogs. When spills occur, we need to have boots on the ground immediately to assess the damage.
I propose we craft exceedingly strict rules around the extraction industry holding them entirely accountable for spills. If they are allowed to continue producing in this state, their safety record and environmental records must be spotless. We need to codify heavy fines for failure to comply, spillage, and the industry must bear the cost for cleaning up their pollution.
We need to retroactively sue for damages caused to the soil and water by past extractive activities in the area. We need to recover our losses and use that money to clean up as much of our land as possible.
I propose we severely limit or disallow crude oil pipelines in our state altogether. I propose that the ones that exist already be decommissioned, dismantled, and the land cleaned as much as possible.