A recent survey by a group devoted to conserving the environments of America’s National Parks and Monuments found that three of those sites in the State of New Mexico — Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument and Chaco Culture Historical Park — were surrounded by more than 500 abandoned oil wells within a 30-mile radius of their “protected” grounds.
In the area around Carlsbad Caverns, in the southeastern corner of the state, 198 left-behind oil wells were identified, while in the opposite, northwest corner, Aztec Ruins looks out at 240 abandoned well sites and Chaco Canyon at 44.
Here are some things we know about these abandoned wells. Many of them are leaking methane, an especially climate-destructive greenhouse gas. What we don’t know is how many “leakers” there are and how much methane and other dangerous substances they are being abandoned to the surrounding air.
And here are two more things of which we can be sure: the federal EPA has paid little attention to the potential threat in abandoned wells and the State of New Mexico Environment Department lacks the resources to deal with them.
Which is why the work of volunteers from groups like Citizens Caring for the Future is important. Our guest today, reporter J. Weston Phippen of Searchlight New Mexico, recently took a ride through parts of the Eddy County oil patch in the Permian Basin not far from Carlsbad and its world famous tourist attraction with a trio of amateur investigators from CCFF.
Weston Phippen has reported on the Southwest, primarily focused on the border and the U.S.-Mexico relationship, for 10 years. He was a former staff writer and editor at Outside magazine and The Atlantic, and his writing has also appeared in publications like Mother Jones and Rolling Stone. In 2016 he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for international reporting. He moved to New Mexico three years ago, and lives in Santa Fe.