San Juan County, New Mexico
Mike is a 22-year resident of Farmington, NM who, along with his family and community, is experiencing the health impacts caused by air pollution from the oil and gas industry. Mike’s is just one story that reveals pollution from the booming industry is causing an increase in asthma attacks and increased risks of cancer and respiratory diseases not only in urban areas but in America’s rural countryside as well.
With 22 years in Farmington, New Mexico, including 12 years as the Energy and Climate Program Manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA), Mike Eisenfeld and his family are all too familiar with the brown cloud and smog that frequently hangs over his home in San Juan County. Mike noticed that the smog grew as the oil and gas extraction rapidly expanded in the area – oil production in the county has tripled over the past decade.
With over 12,000 wells in the county, 3/4 of the residents live within a half mile of an oil and gas facility – one for every 10 people. “Early on, concerned citizens knew about the NOx emissions and the potential impacts. However, general awareness of the impacts of VOCs from natural gas facilities didn’t come about until later, following an education process,” Mike reflected. The health impacts in San Juan County are well known as rates of asthma, in particular in children, continue to rise. In 2007 the New Mexico Department of Health conducted a study linking the frequency of respiratory emergency room visits to high ozone days.
Unfortunately, there are no regular public service announcements regarding high ozone days and the recommended precautionary measures citizens could take. This area is not densely populated and does not have heavy car traffic. The air quality here should be clear and clean. However, the air quality is jeopardized by the oil and gas industry which is the largest source of VOCs and toxic air pollution in the county. EPA reported the sector’s emissions increased more than 50% between 2011 and 2014–and it is likely even higher today.
Looking forward, Mike hopes that the oil and gas industry will clean up its act, including eliminating methane pollution and associated air toxics, and ultimately shifting extraction away from residential communities in San Juan County. In his role as Energy and Climate Program Manager at the SJCA, he focuses on the fact that the coal and oil and gas extraction are the greatest sources creating the bad ozone days in San Juan County. SJCA calls for stringent regulatory oversight and structure to reduce VOC and NOx emissions and thereby reduce the ozone problem in the area.