Oil boom will leave New Mexico a toxic wasteland

By edward r. baca

A scenario I encountered on a road trip from Santa Fe to visit my cousin in the Texas Hill Country this past spring left me unexpectedly stunned.

The first couple of hundred miles of U.S. Highway 285 through Clines Corners, Vaughn and Roswell were uneventful. However, the 86-mile stretch between Carlsbad, New Mexico and Pecos, Texas, jolted me into a state of fearful awareness.

Upon leaving the southern outskirts of Carlsbad, I crossed the boundary into ground zero of fracking in the Permian Oil Basin of Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. I had driven this road about 10 years ago, and was familiar with the pump jacks, pipelines, storage tanks and associated oil field cross traffic, but was not prepared for what I saw this time.

The advent of fracking had increased the activity between Carlsbad and Pecos to an exponential degree. Semi-tanker trucks and oil field service trucks raced up and down this two-lane highway. They turned off and on gravel service roads in a hurried frenzy. The cactus and mesquite bushes lining the highway were heavily strewn with plastic grocery bags, and the sides of the road were littered with trash, plastic bottles, beer cans and pieces of rubber from blown-out tires. This whole surreal landscape was covered by a thick layer of gray dust stirred up by these trucks.

The sprawling man camps, RV parks and truck stops that popped up along this stretch since the last time I had been there were another shocking surprise. Driving through this Mad Max-like desert wasteland while dodging tanker trucks in my little RAV-4 elicited fears I had not experienced since negotiating the I-90 semi-truck gauntlet between Chicago and Gary, Indiana, years ago. It’s understandable why no one, including the New Mexico Department of Transportation, would dare to collect litter on this road.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is the environmental damage caused by the fossil fuel industry. Big oil and its elected enablers would have you believe that global warming is not as serious as the environmental scientists report it to be. Actually, they want you to believe that it is a hoax, and methane emissions, well, they’re really not that bad. Increased respiratory issues? Bah! They’re no worse than seasonal allergies. And, what’s more, look at all the revenue this industry generates for New Mexico! They don’t want you to know that the revenue our state receives from them is chump change compared with the profits they extract from New Mexico and deliver to their boardrooms in Houston, Dallas and New York for distribution to their CEOs and majority stockholders.

When the boom is over, we’ll be left with a littered highway, increasing health problems, rusting oil field boneyards and a vastly depleted water table, i.e., a toxic desert wasteland. Meanwhile, Steve Pearce continues to parrot big oil’s denial of the climate crisis existing in our state, nation and planet. It’s no coincidence that he chose to take the recent Republican state party convention to the oil and gas industry’s home turf of Texas to strategize ways of advancing their “drill, baby, drill” agenda. The alternative is to build a diverse sustainable economy that is not fossil fuel dependent. Do we bite the bullet now or later?

Edward R. Baca lives in Santa Fe.

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