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Human costs: ‘Unearthed 2020: From Boom to Bust’ explores oil and gas industry’s effects on New Mexicans

Gene Harbaugh is interviewed by the CAVU film crew. (Courtesy of Liliana Castillo/Cavu)

Pollution levels in the Permian Basin and the Four Corners area are some of the worst in the United States.

People who live near oil and gas development suffer a higher rate of health problems than people who do not.

Recent research revealed that the Permian Basin is the nation’s highest methane-emitting oil and gas basin, with emissions estimated to be three times higher than reported by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s why Santa Fe-based CAVU, Climate Advocates Voces Unidas, wanted to address the issue with a short film called “Unearthed 2020: From Boom to Bust.” It can be watched at

The film features voices from the Permian Basin and experts on public health, state budgetary processes and outdoor recreation who demonstrate how the state’s largest economic driver affects quality of life for New Mexicans.

“(The film) was quick and responsive to what is going on,” says Liliana Castillo, CAVU deputy director. “With the pandemic, there was another bust in the industry, and we asked, how is it impacting people? What are the things we need to change? The main challenge was talking about the issues and how the issues impact the state as a whole.”

The small group of filmmakers had to also navigate through the pandemic.

“We ended up having to focus on the Permian Basin because the Navajo Nation was still locked down,” Castillo says. “COVID as a whole was the biggest challenge. We also wanted to have people be heard and seen, so we followed all safety precautions.”

Castillo says the New Mexico Environment Department’s ozone monitor in the Permian Basin was out of commission for nearly a month this summer.

Before 2019, the Oil Conservation Division only issued three fines over 11 years on oil and gas operators.

Due to chronic underfunding, there are only seven inspectors to monitor more than 7,700 sources of air pollution across the state.

The Carlsbad gas patch is featured during a flight for the short film “Unearthed 2020: From Boom to Bust.” (Courtesy of Vladimir Claoupka/Cavu)

The state agencies in charge of protecting public health and regulating the oil and gas industry – the Environment Department and the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources – were cut by 25% to 30% under the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez. Over the same time, oil and gas production in New Mexico increased by 248%.

“We better understand the impacts on people and how to protect their health if we listen to their stories. Stories are compelling, and they connect us together in a world that has become too divisive,” Castillo says. “Our 2020 update to ‘Unearthed’ gives voice … (and) shows what happens when we put profit over the health and safety of our citizens and ignore the long-term effects this industry has on our planet.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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