State Agencies Utterly Fail to Protect Our Land, Water, Air & YOU!

Today, we post links to our recording of Tuesday’s shocking Zoom “NM Water Crisis” and offer actions you can take to press the MLG administration to act responsibly. Also, we announce our Dec zoom with Speaker Brian Egolf & Senator Peter Wirth.

Great Cause. Casa Milagro is a residential opportunity for adults recovering from homelessness and mental health challenges here in Santa Fe. New Energy Economy is partnering with Casa Milagro to make their home solar with their Sol Not Coal campaign. Please click on this link to learn about what is going on at Casa Milagro and watch a 3-minute video. You can also make a contribution there.

Retake Conversation with Brittney Barreras, candidate for House District 12. Saturday, Sept 19, 8:30 am on KSFR 101.1 FM and streaming live from KSFR.org. Barreras is running Art de la Cruz in a race in which no GOP is running. de la Cruz is infamous for his pro-developer stance as a Bernalillo County Commissioner, ramming through the massive Santolina development and derailing the effort to achieve paid sick leave. Barreras is new to politics and would add another young, progressive woman to the NM State House. A recording of the conversation will appear on our website mid-day Saturday.

Tuesday, Dec. 1, 6:30 – 8:00 pm. Election Debrief, Legislative Agenda with Senate Floor Leader Peter Wirth and Speaker of the House Brian Egolf. We will discuss how the primaries and the general election have altered the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate and what those changes mean for the possibilities of getting transformational legislation passed in 2021. We will also discuss the national election and what may have been a pretty chaotic November.

Click here to register

In the works, Oct Zoom: PRC Constitutional Amendment: Elect or Appoint? Nov; Zoom: Retake Our Democracy Presents its Transform Platform for the 2021 Legislative Session. Stay tuned.

Recording of September 15, NM Water Crisis Zoominar. We assembled a tremendous panel for our discussion of the water challenges facing NM. We heard from Norm Gaume, former director of the NM Interstate Streams Commission; David Gutzler, UNM’s internationally renowned climate researcher; and Theresa Cardenas, President of Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates. It was pretty shocking to hear just how much NM is failing to grapple with what is a mounting and critical problem, especially when we hear that our neighbors, Colorado and Texas, are taking actions we should have implemented years ago, especially when we hear that MLG requested $750K to implement her 50 Year Water Plan and the legislature allocated $0. Instead they authorized the State Engineer to hire two researchers, an authorization that was revoked four months later. Very instructive zoominar.

NM Water Crisis Needs to Be Addressed:
A Few Things You Can Do Now

We received many, many emails from attendees who found the panel discussion shockingly informative. But they wondered what they might be able to actually do about the situation. Here are a few things you can do.

  • Become better informed on the issue.
    • If you missed the Zoominar, watch it;
    • Visit Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates Issues web page as it has links to a dozen excellent articles on various water use and water management issues.
    • Look for tomorrow’s post, a special issue devoted to NM State Water Law. It puts in lay terms a very complex issue;
  • For now our action is to::
    • Urge the legislature to vote to fully fund the Governor’s 50 Year Water Plan (link below)
    • Urge the legislature to restore funding necessary to state water agencies, including the Office of the State Engineer, to pre-Martinez levels. As with our agencies responsible for regulating gas and oil, our water agencies have been gutted and can not do their jobs.
    • While the exact nature of the bill(s) to be introduced by Rep. Melanie Stansbury are not known at this time, they will be essential to addressing our water crisis. Encourage your legislator(s) to become familiar with and support the bills.
    • Click here for contact info for the Governor, Dem Legislative leadership and another link to all the NM state legislators
  • Watch for more water policy information from Retake Our Democracy including tomorrow’s post on NM Water Law.

News In Brief

From the New York Times: HOW CLIMATE MIGRATION WILL RESHAPE AMERICA: Millions will be displaced. Where will they go?” We offer but one NIB today, as it is a lengthy article well worth your review. Journalist Abrahm Lustgorten conducted extensive research into the trends in climate-triggered catastrophes in the US and asked the question: when do people who live in communities ravaged repeatedly by floods, hurricanes, and floods decide to move and where will they go? What happens when insurers will no longer insure homes near the coast or near wildfire zones? Where will people go?

Oil Conservation Division’s Failing Miserably
In Regulating “Produced Water”

Today, we offer another very lightly edited guest post, this time from New Energy Economy focused on new regulations governing the use of produced toxic waste AKA “Produced Water.” We noted above how NM has a water crisis and doesn’t have the resolve to address the issue. I am beginning to see a trend here: water, produced water, gas & oil, methane all poorly managed or regulated, if at all.

There is a piece missing in this puzzle, the Governor clearly respects science and uses it to guide her COVID policies, but in relation to water, we have no science-based plans to manage our water and in relation to gas and oil, despite abundant evidence that produced water has no place outside the oil fields, we seem not to have the resolve to adhere to science here. Read on from NEE.

On July 30th and 31st, the Oil Conservation Division (OCD) held public hearings on the draft rules it was proposing pertaining to the Produced Water Act. At that meeting the proposed rule was criticized in countless public comments for stipulating vaguely that disposition of fracking waste must “protect public health, the environment and fresh water resources” without defining any specific standards to be followed.

New Energy Economy and allies argued instead that science and data must inform the rules, and that all implications for health, the environment and affected communities must be clearly addressed.

Following that meeting the draft rules were revised. New Energy Economy has raised and continues to be concerned with the revised rule that was presented on September 3rd, and here’s why:

Two experts from the Sierra Club testified that it is a “legal fiction” to make a distinction between the regulation of produced water “inside vs. outside” the oil field and raised the flow line explosion carrying “produced water” and crude oil that showered the Aucoin/George family as an example of the arbitrariness of the rule-making’s attempt to draw such an imaginary boundary [for more on this see Retake’s post on Sept 4]; and

The failure of state agencies to oversee and enforce existing regulations to address the large number of and continuous releases and discharges of toxic waste, including illegal dumping; and

While NMED’s witness testified that “produced water” will not be allowed off of the oil field documents obtained by New Energy Economy indicate there will be “pilot projects” allowed to do just that. In fact this rule allows that explicitly. (“Research using produced water is to be encouraged through pilot projects approved by the division.” 19.15.34.7 (3))

Legal Fiction

House Speaker Brian Egolf, a sponsor of the Produced Water Act, submitted a letter to the commission stating that the law must not be interpreted to allow fracking waste to be used “outside of oil and gas operations,” but the revised rule fails to define what constitutes “inside vs. outside” the oil field. What the revised rule states is that OCD is responsible for: “produced water, drilling fluids and other liquid oil field waste in activities within the jurisdiction of the division.” But there is no explanation of what’s within their jurisdiction?

Allegedly, in contrast, all matters of “release, discharge and …treatment for the disposition of treated produced water, including disposition in road construction maintenance, roadway ice or dust control or other construction, or in the application of treated produced water to land, ….[will be] subject to rules adopted by the water quality control commission pursuant to the Water Quality Act” another regulatory agency (the WQC) and that agency has not yet written any rules. You can’t regulate without rules.

So what happens when an above ground flow line within 100ft. of a family’s home explodes and showers toxic waste on Marlene (Penny) Aucoin and Carl George, their animals, their home, their cars, their land? Technically, the flow line was on WPX’s leased land but the waste crossed the street and contaminated their property and harmed their health, the environment, and their animals (all of their chickens had to be put down and their dog since died). Which agency maintains jurisdiction? Apparently no one.

WPX, the operator responsible for the spill, removed 25 cubic yards of topsoil due to its contamination and took it to a hazardous waste landfill, but analyses of the remaining soil at the Aucoin/George home indicates there are still unhealthy levels of contamination such as chloride and “total petroleum hydrocarbons” present.

The WPX waste discharge reached two other properties as well, directly to the north and south of their home. Without independent investigation of any kind by the OCD, it approved “ closure” of the case on August 4th. Penny and Carl and their family, however, have not recovered and have not been compensated. That is not regulation.

Failure of Oversight Encourages Malfeasance

While the O&G companies that own these facilities are responsible for the accidents and poor management that led to these environmental disasters, it is undeniable that New Mexico has failed to properly supervise, monitor, control, or penalize the companies, even for “major” incidents. Indeed many of these companies are repeat violators of basic environmental regulations and receive limited or no punishment for their violations and are allowed to continue to operate, leading to the occurrence of repeated major accidents.

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) and as noted above in relation to water agencies that were depleted of funding and personnel during the Martinez Administration, so too OCD, with no inspectors in southeast NM and only one of the five attorney positions filled. (http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/documents/EMNRD_AnnualReport_2019_nm.pdf,
p. 63.)

The Lujan Grisham administrative agencies responsible for oversight do not engender confidence in their ability to 1) prevent incidents from occurring; 2) notify impacted landowners and/or community members of the damage caused; and 3) adequately remediate the problems occurring. Norman Gaume, who testified at the OCD hearing, stated that the spills constitute an “environmental disaster” and are preventable.

Pilot Projects – “camel’s nose under the tent”

While this rule and NMED testimony professes to prohibit any and all uses of “produced water” outside the oil patch, this rule and an internal email confirms that the same agency officials intend to allow “pilot projects” of produced water outside the oil patch. These pilot projects directly contradict Speaker Egolf’s letter, that explicitly “urges” OCD not to allow “produced water” outside of the oil patch:

“I urge you to take care in the crafting of these regulations to ensure that none of the rules and regulations adopted pursuant to House Bill 546 inadvertently allow or purport to permit any use, application, or discharge of produced water outside of oil and gas operations.”

Speaker Brian Egolf

Allowing pilot projects, before any scientific studies have been considered is irresponsible in the extreme. There are published peer-reviewed studies that unequivocally demonstrate that use of fracked wastewater on unpaved roads to control dust which contains high levels of the carcinogenic and radioactive element radium, inorganic salts, and oil and gas hydrocarbons, is a threat to human health and the environment. Consequently, Pennsylvania and four other states have banned road spreading of wastewater from hydraulically fractured wells.

As a matter of fact, extensive empirical data has confirmed that the public health risks from unconventional gas and oil extraction are real, the range of adverse environmental impacts wide, and the negative economic consequences considerable. Any sober examination of the peer-reviewed medical, public health, biological, earth sciences, and engineering literature evidence that fracking cannot be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health, animal well-being and damage our environment.

The Governor when talking about the devastating coronavirus has stated that “my administration’s response to COVID-19 has been grounded in science and data.” This administration must apply the same legal, medical, social and moral standards to the oil and gas industry to, in her words, “protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

New Energy Economy

I would like to add to what NEE has provided, that long before COVID and the plunge in gas and oil revenue, in the 2019 legislative session with a large surplus, the legislature and the Governor could have chosen to devote funding to restore our agencies responsible for regulating our water, air, environment and natural resources. They didn’t do that. A budget is a moral document and choices as to what to fund and what to leave without funds is a moral choice. Recent Retake posts have outlined the significant damage to our land, water, air and communities that are a consequence of choices made by our Legislature and Governor.

We need to make sure that they hear from us loud and clear:

  • You can’t develop a water plan without funds and/or staff to conduct the necessary research and data collection;
  • You can’t regulate the gas and oil industry without inspectors and attorneys;
  • You can’t levy meaningful penalties without statutes that allow for those penalties; and
  • As outlined by NM Voices for Children, there are hundreds of millions of dollars of tax cuts for big business and the wealthy and corporate subsidies available to more than pay for these urgent needs (see link below to NM Voices revenue generating options.

We turn to our Democratic leadership to face up to our challenges and not just kick them down the road. We understand that now we have a budget crisis; but we have methane spewing continuously; we have billions of gallons of water utilized fracking; we have a water crisis of unknown depth as we have not studied where we stand; and we have revenue options that would enable our government to protect us.

Stay tuned. We will have calls to be made and emails to be sent on a regular basis. Please share this and future “calls to action” with your friends. We need to fix this.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne



Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use & Wildlife

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  1. Water reckoning looms in New Mexico’s future: ‘We’re not prepared for what’s ahead of us’ – La Jicarita

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