Yesterday, along with Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) and WildEarth Guardians, we delivered a new report on oil and gas industry waste to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham highlighting the need for urgent action to protect public health from toxic oil and gas waste.
We held a press conference outside the Governor’s office in front of a tower of over 300 “Toxic Produced Water” cans, symbolizing the more than 300 spills so far in New Mexico in 2020 - three spills each day - which are already contaminating land and water and creating a current public health crisis across New Mexico.
As Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has stated repeatedly throughout the COVID-19 epidemic, and I quote “From day one, my administration’s response to COVID-19 has been grounded in science and data. The only way we get through this pandemic is if we take to heart what public health experts have to say. It’s the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.” That approach has saved lives and we applaud her leadership. The same legal, medical, social and moral standards must be applied to the O&G environmental disaster that is ongoing in the Permian Basin.
On average each day there are 252 bbls of produced water spilled; 44 barrels of crude oil spilled; and 677,000 cubic feet of natural gas leaked. For every barrel of oil produced, industry consumes an average of 3 barrels of fresh water, and produces 4-7 times as much toxic “produced water.” Hardly water, this “produced water” is too toxic to treat, and is actually a dangerous cocktail of radioactive materials, heavy metals, proprietary fracking chemicals, and other contaminants known to be carcinogenic and dangerous to human health and the environment.
Meanwhile, the number of well inspections has decreased by 28% between the administrations of Governor Martinez (42,880 inspections in 2018) and Governor Lujan Grisham (31,043 inspections in 2019). Many oil and gas companies are repeat violators of basic environmental regulations and yet are allowed to continue to operate. The division issued just 1,620 violations in FY19, 78 percent of the number issued in FY18, despite significant increases in oil and gas production that year. The OCD attributes fewer inspections and a lack of compliance with permits and regulations to compliance officer vacancies. However, somehow OCD continues to process most approved drilling permits within 10 business days.
According to the report “more than 1.4 million gallons of produced wastewater have ended up running over the surface of the earth from 327 spills in the first eight months of 2020 alone. The total volume spilled would cover 4.4 acres with one foot of liquid oil and gas toxic wastewater.” Only 40% of contaminants spilled into the environment were recovered. Horrifyingly, these discharges are legal, the cost of doing business-as-usual, and are largely preventable with the most frequently cited cause of releases being equipment failure.
Every day oil and gas waste is leaked, spilled, and exploded across New Mexico due to industry’s improper storage, processing, and illegal dumping of waste.
Finding regulations glaringly inadequate to address the current risks oil and gas waste poses to the environment, worker safety, and public health, we hope the Governor will see the wall of toxic fracking waste outside her window and use the report as an opportunity to course correct and direct her Oil Conservation Division to make preventable spills of toxic fracking waste illegal in New Mexico.