Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico’s oil and gas industry is booming.
And, in the state’s oil-producing regions, a large portion of residents live near industry infrastructure.
More than 144,000 New Mexico residents live within half a mile of an oil or natural gas well, according to a map released Tuesday by the environmental groups Earthworks and FracTracker Alliance.
The groups say the data points to a need for strong state and federal regulations on industry pollution in order to protect public health.
Alan Septoff, an Earthworks information systems director who created the nationwide map, said the team plotted about 1.5 million active oil and gas production facilities.
“We drew this half-mile health threat radius (around those facilities), which was conservative, because there’s actually science that detects oil and gas toxins much farther away than half a mile,” he said.
New Mexico in recent years has adopted some of the strongest regional regulations on industry pollution.
The state banned routine venting and flaring of natural gas to cut down on methane.
Operators must also report emissions data and meet a 98% gas capture rate by the end of 2026.
“Every operator’s going to be different,” said Oil Conservation Division director Adrienne Sandoval. “And the rule provides flexibility to do what is best for their businesses, but still have them meet those metrics and targets.”
Regulations finalized earlier this year task companies with quickly finding and fixing equipment leaks that can form the harmful pollutant ozone.
New Mexico’s rules are a good step toward protecting communities, said Kayley Shoup, a Carlsbad resident with local advocacy group Citizens Caring for the Future.
Rules now require more leak inspections at wells within 1,000 feet of homes, workplaces and schools.
But the groups argue for more education about the health risks of living near industry sites.
“A lot of people don’t know that they are breathing in benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, and they don’t understand what these pollutants can do to your health,” Shoup said.
In San Juan County, about 77% of residents live within half a mile of an oil and gas well, compressor or processor.
About 23,200 residents in Eddy County, or 37% of the county population, live within the “threat radius.”
In Lea County, about 34% of residents live in close proximity to oil and gas infrastructure.
More than 28,000 children attend the 119 New Mexico schools and day cares within the half-mile radius.