Statement of Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel
In response to over 1 million comments asking the Administration to protect our public lands, air and water from fracking, the White House responded with some concrete steps that will curb some problems with fracking on public lands, but still falls short of the protections Americans deserve. The Bureau of Land Management is the largest manager of mineral rights in the US.
For the last five days our attorney and experts and I sat in a hearing room in Santa Fe because the oil and gas industry wants to gut New Mexico’s common sense Pit Rule.
The Pit Rule was developed with extensive input from oil and gas industry representatives, ranchers and conservation organizations in 2007 to protect New Mexico’s water, soil and public health from toxic drilling and fracking wastes.
Governor Martinez vowed to repeal the Pit Rule during her campaign and now the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association thinks it has the votes on the oil commission to do the deal.
Over the last four days, the oil and gas industry (New Mexico Oil & Gas Association) has presented experts to prove to the state of New Mexico that the Pit Rule is unnecessary.
One expert blathered on yesterday for 8 hours without presenting technical information or modeling demonstrating that pits do or don’t pollute. But when a member of the public presented his testimony on why New Mexico needs to keep the Pit Rule to ensure responsible development, he was cut off when a buzzer rang. Testimony from members of the public is limited to a mere 5 minutes.
I have been asked to summarize the oil and gas industry’s expert testimony since Monday so here goes:
“Toxic drilling pits just don’t pollute (even with torn liners), just trust us on that, so give us a green light to bury our drilling and fracking wastes anywhere we want.”
The picture is now clear.
The oil and gas industry is getting away with developing new rules for shale oil and gas development by amending the Pit Rule.
However, in a strange twist, Jami Bailey, the chair of New Mexico's oil and gas oversight agency, would not admit the 8,000 pages of testimony and exhibits put forward in the 17-day hearing held in 2007 to develop the Pit Rule. She claims this is a whole new rule. Industry claims they are simply amending the Pit Rule. How can they have it both ways? The travesty is unfolding this week in Santa Fe.
Yesterday, New Mexico state legislator Thomas Taylor -- acting on behalf of the oil & gas drilling industry -- introduced a bill that would rescind the hard-won regulations protecting water and public health from toxic oil and gas waste pits.
The 2008 rules require lining all oil & gas waste pits. They also prohibit waste pits entirely when groundwater is within 50 feet of the surface.
"Closed-loop" or "pitless" systems actually save drillers money -- on the order of 3% per well -- according to testimony before the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission.
Hopefully the New Mexico legislature hasn't forgotten its responsibility to its citizens and their health, or the drilling industry's history of contaminated groundwater.
If not, this bill will die and quick and well-deserved death.
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