Senator Smith's Pipe Dream
Lessons from the 2013 #nmleg

Coyote in the Schoolyard - Oil and Gas

Wile_E_CoyoteThe metaphor of the fox in the hen house is overused. Self-policing by the oil and gas industry is more like a coyote in the school yard. He pays for the place. He can go where he wants and do what he likes.

Loosely regulated and in the driver’s seat of the economy, oil and gas dominates the Roundhouse. Efforts to restrain, regulate or alter New Mexico’s relationship with the industry are met with a collective moan from lobbyists who swat at bills like antagonizing flies. They use terms like, ‘industry economics demand’ and have some ‘business friendly’ Democrats on their side.

The problem with being ‘business friendly’ is that it nearly always means being unfriendly to someone or something else. Like employees or the environment.

Senator Soules bill SB 547 to ban fracking was tabled in Senate Conservation on 8-2 vote. Opponents to this and other ‘unfriendly’ bills testified there are ‘no verified cases of drinking water contamination’ and that oil and gas are the ‘lifeblood’ of the state and crucial to our economy and schools in particular. Dependence on tax revenue from non-renewables is never posed by industry advocates as regrettable. It’s a fact of life. A fact that conveniently dampens criticism.

We are further led to believe by the oil and gas industry proponents that frantic unregulated drilling is absolutely necessary to heat our homes. This is getting a little harder to dish out in light of renewables, but it is easy to consume without thinking. We do it with water too. We are sheltered from costs we don’t pay. Again, this is not a bad thing for oil and gas.

The unpaid cost is environmental quality, most importantly. We allow the irrevocable destruction of the environment, even where the industry operates properly. Oil and gas production is an inherently dirty business, polluting millions of gallons of water at each well site and having a alarming negative impact on air quality over the region.

Finding instances of unauthorized discharges of fluids or problems with cracked well casings and contaminated water in the wrong places is nearly impossible when no one’s looking. The 2013 study by the Western Organization of Resources Councils documents the serious shortage of well inspectors in New Mexico and BLM’s Internal Review in 2011 found lack of oversight.

The fact that most drilling occurs in very remote locations also enables the industry to make its claims that self-policing works. But a quick tour via Google map imagery shows the extent of drilling in NW New Mexico. The San Juan Basin is a ‘national sacrifice area’ now.

Coyote está en el patio. Debe estar en la escuela.


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