NM Land Commissioner visits Eddy County to assess oilfield-related pollution

New Mexico News

New Mexicans know how important the oil and gas industry is to the state’s economy, but is it coming at a cost to the environment?

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard went to southeast New Mexico to see for herself.

“I think it’s much broader and deep than we had anticipated,” she said.

The environmental advocacy group, Earthworks, says oil and gas related emissions are higher there than any other part of the state—something they say is preventable.

“It is unrivaled…both the speed of the development and the number of new sites going in or being re-fracked in the area is intense,” said Earthworks Field Advocate Nathalie Eddy.

Meanwhile, methane and benzene are being released into the air. 

Eddy says methane has a direct correlation to climate change, and benzene can have significant health impacts such as cancer and respiratory issues. Even just visiting the oilfield sites, she says can cause nausea, headaches and sore throats.

“Up ’til now, this has pretty much been kind of Wild West operations and the operators know it so there’s not a strong incentive to change business,” said Eddy.

“From the naked eye, you can’t see that anything is amiss,” said Garcia Richard.

Commissioner Garcia Richard campaigned on the idea of methane capture. Over the weekend, she went with Earthworks to Eddy County to see it firsthand using optical gas imaging.

“I told Nathalie that she should’ve prepared us emotionally better for what we were about to see because we did not expect to see what we did,” said Garcia Richard.

Through the lens, you can see clouds of emissions spewing from the sites. 

“Last year alone, there were 1,712 violations and not a single penalty assesed by the Oil Conservation Divison,” said Eddy.

Garcia Richard says her eyes were opened, quite literally. Now, she’s ready to work with the oil and gas industry and help take action to stop the pollution.

“Through requiring detection and really working together to build out infrastructure to capture this methane,” she said.

The State Environment Department just launched an interactive methane emissions map. To view the levels in your area, click here.

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