Put New Mexicans to work on oil and gas mess - Albuquerque Journal

Put New Mexicans to work on oil and gas mess

New Mexico is an oil and gas colony. The fossil fuel industry has operated in our state for more than a century, removing hundreds of billions of dollars of profit from New Mexico while leaving an expensive mess for New Mexicans to clean up. While industry leaders crow about their contributions to New Mexico’s budget, the cost to clean up the mess they’ve left us pales in comparison to their contributions.

There are an estimated 60,000 inactive wells statewide. They contaminate our groundwater, leak methane into the atmosphere, impact wildlife habitat and endanger the health of our people. It is also worth noting that there are another 53,000 active wells in New Mexico that will have to be cleaned up someday.

The New Mexico State Land Office estimates the state is holding just $201 million in “financial assurances” versus the $8.3 billion total price tag for well closure and cleanup. That’s just 2.4% of what we will actually need.

Who makes up that difference? The oil and gas industry expects you and me to pay. I can’t afford it. Our schools can’t afford it, our roads can’t afford it and our state government certainly can’t afford it.

The oil and gas industry is dying. New Mexico will lose 38% of our oil and gas jobs by the end of this summer. Nationwide, the oil and gas industry has fired 118,000 workers this year alone.

Our Congressional delegation must commit to introducing and passing the Abandoned Well Act of 2021. This bill would create an Abandoned Well Administration (AWA), and implement necessary regulation of oil and gas production. The AWA would employ a new federal workforce of displaced oil and gas workers. It would (also) identify and safely decommission the millions of oil and gas wells, and related infrastructure.

From rig managers to drillers, to roughnecks and roustabouts – these folks possess valuable and needed skills to make our communities safer and healthier. AWA paychecks will pay local mortgages, fund local governments and schools, and support real families.

We would not be facing an escalating orphan well crisis if current regulations were sufficient. We must eliminate the use of blanket bonds, and overturn all current tax exemptions and incentives that encourage industry to just walk away from the mess they make. New Mexico must deploy ‘full cost bonding’ and retroactively apply ‘joint and several liability’ on all oil and gas wells so the big oil and gas companies don’t just “dine and dash,” leaving the little guys to pay for their mess or go bankrupt.

Of course, industry proxies will whine about higher fees, declaring that we are making “good” actors pay for a few “bad” actors. But the alternative is that you and I shoulder those costs.

Will we continue to be a colony of oil and gas? Will we allow this industry that has benefited so greatly from our natural resources to drive us further into poverty, force an increase in taxes and limit our ability to create a thriving New Mexico for our children?

What is New Mexico’s future going to be?

Jim O’Donnell lives in Taos.

 


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