ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Residents of the sleepy village of Lamy say they feel under siege.
They fear oil spills, fires and water pollution, just for starters.
On Saturday, about 275 residents of Lamy, Eldorado and Santa Fe packed the old Legal Tender Saloon to seek answers from the company planning to truck crude oil from the Four Corners to Lamy property owned by Santa Fe Southern Railway. The New Mexico oil will then be transferred to rail cars and shipped to refineries south of Albuquerque.
The project is slated to begin “sometime in the first quarter,” according to Pacer Energy Marketing.
At the meeting, organizers produced petitions against the move to send to Gov. Susana Martinez and placed a donations box to raise money to file a possible injunction against the project. The crowd included representatives from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the Sierra Club and State Sen. Peter Wirth.
Wirth described himself as “extremely concerned” about the Tulsa-based Pacer’s plans.
“First, I think the president (Rail Asset Manager Tom Birkett) needs to come to this community and speak to (the people) directly,” he said.
Wirth said he wants to set up a meeting between Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Pacer to negotiate another location for the oil terminal.
“This makes no sense given the water issues,” he said, “and the health and safety issues.
“We have oil and we need transport,” he continued. “To come in the middle of a small community and load oil on trucks makes no sense to me.”
Pacer representatives Dan Whitmarsh and Dave Tulk faced a series of sometimes hostile questions from the crowd, often saying they would have to check with Birkett for answers. They said their workers were trained to think of safety and security first.
Asked why Birkett did not appear, Tulk said he was playing in a community orchestra, eliciting groans from the crowd.
“We live in a community like you do,” said Whitmarsh, who lives in Tulsa. “We worry about water and air. We’re going to accommodate you as best we can.”
Pacer is leasing a track siding from Santa Fe Southern, which also owns the short line between Lamy and Santa Fe, and once ran sightseeing trains on that route. Work has already begun to improve the siding at the Lamy terminal located off County Road 33 at the “Y” site near local housing.
Pressed as to why the company chose Lamy, Tulk said Burlington Northern couldn’t give Pacer a location between Albuquerque and Gallup. Burlington Northern owns the rail terminal site in Thoreau that Pacer uses to off-load crude.
“Lamy was the closest, most effective place we could find,” he said. “Lamy is basically just a back-up for Thoreau.”
Thoreau is the new center of company operations, Whitmarsh added.
Area residents are worried about oil spills near the local water supply, as well as the potential for train derailments. The off-loading site is just 109 feet from the town’s well.
“Your business might resume (after a spill), but this becomes a ghost town,” said Roger Taylor, president of the Ranchitos de Galisteo Water Users Association. Residents said they were also concerned about property values. Today, the only jarring sound in Lamy is a twice-daily Amtrak train.
“We’re here because we like the air, we like no pollution,” Galisteo resident Glen Snell said. “Who’s going to take up the slack when I can’t sell my property for what it’s worth?”
Crude oil producers have increasingly turned to railroads for shipping as oil production has mushroomed across the country. Rail shipments ballooned from 10,840 in 2009 to an estimated 400,000 in 2013. The Oklahoma-based Pacer Energy Marketing plans to truck crude oil from the Four Corners area to property in Lamy owned by Santa Fe Southern Railway, where the oil would be transferred to rail cars and shipped to refineries south of Albuquerque. Pacer representatives have insisted the company grounds its trucks and rail cars to protect against static electricity. They submerge the load so that no oil drops from the top of the car to the bottom, igniting static electricity.
Pacer has a formal spill and containment plan, Whitmarsh and Tulk said. Loaders know safety is a priority and that they must keep the oil off the ground. The company has performed this work for six years with very little spillage, they added.
What little oil does spill is cleaned up within hours; workers replace the dirty gravel with clean material, they said. Vapors are collected during the loading process, then returned to the oil field and placed in tanks.
Recently, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D. Another crude oil shipping train crashed in Canada in July, killing 47 people. Congress is pushing for stricter oversight and safety measures in light of the crashes, according to Insurance Journal.
Pressed as to how he would feel if he lived in Lamy, Whitmarsh replied, “I would probably sit on your side and say, ‘I don’t know about this.’ We travel to Santa Fe every year at Thanksgiving. I love this area. That’s why you’re here. I can understand why you’re concerned.”
Eldorado resident Rainy Upton said she was determined to stop Pacer’s plans.
“We stopped the Galisteo Basin (drilling). We’ll stop this, too. We are the driest state in the U.S. We’re talking about not being able to turn on the faucet. Why would you look for trouble and come to Lamy, Galisteo and Eldorado?”
Wirth called the town meeting the first step in addressing the issue.
“Seven years ago, Tecton (Energy) wanted to drill,” he said. “It was the community standing up that started the discussion leading to the ordinance that stopped it.”