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Rejection of Expert Witnesses Part Of National Trend To Avoid Truth About Oil & Gas Development Impacts

SANTA FE, N.M., Jan 10 — Today, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission concluded a public hearing on proposed amendments to the oil and gas waste pit regulation (the Pit Rule) without allowing conservation groups to testify. Expert technical witnesses offered by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) were not permitted to comment on the potential effects that burying toxic waste products from oil and gas drilling in the ground would have on the state's groundwater and public health.

“The Commission is supposed to hear relevant testimony from experts and the public in order to make an educated decision on the rules and regulations it chooses to adopt,” says Eric Jantz, NMELC Staff Attorney representing Earthworks' Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP). “The Commission chose to afford industry every leniency, and in doing so, pushed the public's welfare aside.”

The hearing was scheduled because the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association and Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico (industry trade groups) used an old and superseded version of the Pit Rule when petitioning the Commission for amendments. The hearing was an attempt to rectify this error.

“The Commission’s decision not only undermines the goal of maximizing the amount of information the Commission, as a policy making body, receives about this important environmental and public health issue,” says Jantz, “but it also disrupts the democratic process and public participation.”

“Irony aside, blocking testimony on a public health issue at a public hearing is part of an unfortunate trend across the country to avoid emerging science concerning the impacts of oil and gas development,” said Earthworks' Oil & Gas Accountability Project Director, Bruce Baizel. “In New Mexico, Colorado, and New York, industry and its advocates have recently attempted to obstruct input into public rulemakings regarding the environmental and health impacts of oil and gas development. You have to ask yourself, what are they afraid of? We think the answer is: the truth.”

The Commission will now continue deliberations on the Pit Rule. “We hope the Commission will do the right thing and preserve the Pit Rule as it is,” says Jantz. “However, we’re not counting on that. We are prepared to challenge any decision on the Pit Rule that rolls back public health and environmental protections.”

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