The records of the State of New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s Oil Conservation Division show that spills of toxic “produced water” – an unwanted by-product of fracking – are a regular part of the oil and gas business.
In the last normal year, 2019, there were 846 spills.
In the completely abnormal year of 2020, with the energy industry in crisis and production down, there still had been 420 produced water spills in New Mexico by early August.
Part of the, er- unpleasantness of doing energy business. Part of the cost of doing business, but a considerable part of the costs are actually being covered by taxpayers.
Since a lot of spills seem preventable, critics say, the industry might have fewer of them, if each spill was punished. Right now all that’s required is that the company that caused the spill ‘fess up, and clean-up their mess, and right now, the reality is a lot of spills go unreported or unclaimed and a lot of mess never gets fully cleaned.
This is the deal the State has accepted for decades, but it might finally be challenged, and setting tougher rules of responsibility for toxic water releases may become a model for rules, regulations and powers of enforcement to prevent no-longer-profitable oil and gas operations from being abandoned as orphans.
Holding the oil and gas industry accountable for the things it leaves behind is made both more difficult and more necessary since fossil fuels seem swiftly on the way to being left behind. The new CEO of the energy giant BP says his company’s future is in renewable sources.
That’s a shift that could leave the southeast and northwest corners of New Mexico littered with ugly, useless, sometimes toxic relics of the oil and gas era. And taxpayers would be stuck with the bill for the clean-up.
Covering the energy industry in New Mexico is a little like reporting the last days of the dinosaurs as the Ice Age begins. Our guest Kendra Chamberlain reports on energy in its environmental context for the New Mexico Political Report, which means she has to tell her readers that not only will they be paying for a lot of dinosaur funerals, they’re also going to feel the effects of the climate change that’s coming.
Kendra Chamberlain is the Environment Reporter at NM Political Report, talking over from the foundation set by Laura Paskus over the last two years. She will lead coverage of environmental issues around the state and write the weekly NM Environment Review email newsletter.
Chamberlain will continue covering much of what Paskus did over the past two years, but will also expand our coverage with other environment issues.
Chamberlain, who grew up in Santa Fe before going to college in New York and began her journalism career in Louisiana. She previously worked as a space reporter and analyst for The Enterprise Orbit, the news desk editor at Dig Baton Rouge and freelanced for outlets like Ensia Magazine and DeSmogBlog.