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 industrial 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 environmental groups Earthworks and FracTracker Alliance.
The groups say the data points to the need for strict state and federal regulations on industrial pollution to protect public health.
Alan Septoff, chief information officer at Earthworks who created the national map, said the team had mapped around 1.5 million active oil and gas production facilities.
“We drew this half-mile health threat radius (around these facilities), which was conservative, because there’s actually science out there that detects oil and gas toxins much further than half a mile away. -mile,” he said.
In recent years, New Mexico has adopted some of the most stringent regional industrial pollution regulations.
The state has banned routine venting and flaring of natural gas to reduce methane.
Operators must also report emissions data and achieve a 98% gas capture rate by the end of 2026.
“Every operator will be different,” said Adrienne Sandoval, director of the Petroleum Conservation Division. “And the rule provides the flexibility to do what’s best for their businesses, while allowing them to meet those parameters and goals.”
Regulations finalized earlier this year instruct companies to quickly find and repair 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.
The rules now require more leak inspections at wells located within 1,000 feet of homes, workplaces and schools.
But the groups are advocating for more education about the health risks of living near industrial sites.
“A lot of people don’t know they’re 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.
Approximately 23,200 Eddy County residents, or 37% of the county’s population, live within the “threat radius.”
In Lea County, approximately 34% of residents live near oil and gas infrastructure.
More than 28,000 children attend New Mexico’s 119 schools and daycares within a half-mile radius.