Jonathan Sims is a media producer and former appointed official at the Pueblo of Acoma. He covers news and writes a column on Indigenous People's issues for The Paper.

Pipelines, protests, fracking and political farces are par for the course on an average N.M. day. Enbridge Pipeline 3 protestors took to the streets Friday to protest a pipeline being built in the Minnesota region that will transmit tar sand oil to the Midwest. Local activists gathered Friday outside the Chase Bank branch on Wyoming Blvd. to call for an end to Pipeline 3 and divestment from Chase JP Morgan financial institutions and the Canadian company behind it, Enbridge. What is Pipeline 3? Well, Pipeline 3 is all the way up in Minnesota, with a proposed route crossing 227 lakes and rivers, including the Mississippi River and rivers that feed directly into Lake Superior, putting those waterways at risk of a spill from the 760,000 barrels of tar sands oil that would flow through.

So why should this matter to New Mexico? Our state has had its own water, gas and oil fights for years. It isn’t fair to beg the question, “Have you paid attention?” when, in actuality, these fights get little attention in the daily press unless something drastic happens. Anni Hanna is a mother and local activist who brought her entire family along to the protest. When asked about water issues, she stated, “Typically, fracking spills have been in the Artesia area. We spent a whole day looking at the fracking operations and using the infrared to see the methane flares. Methane is a very toxic gas. The water that fracking produces is toxic and bad if it enters our water table,” she said.

Produced water is what she is talking about, and it is a nasty thing. Produced water is the byproduct of fracking, a highly saline solution of water and other fluids, chemicals and micro debris. In high-volume fracking areas, what to do with this byproduct is becoming a major concern. For example, the Carlsbad-Argus in oil country reports that each fracking well in the Permian Basin near Texas can use from 1.5 million to 16 million gallons.

The state did pass a Fluid and Gas Waste Act in 2019, which helped regulate some of fracking water issues. But the state found itself on the radar of the oil and gas industry as it sought to reform the legislation last year. Pueblos of Laguna and Jemez filed a federal lawsuit on March 26 to protect clean water in New Mexico flowing through their land. The lawsuit, filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, challenges a 2020 Trump administration’s ruling called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule that weakens and eliminates portions of the federal Clean Water Act protections for “intermittent streams”—a designation that makes up nearly all the water in New Mexico. 

AnTro Shemayme is a Dine’ artist and activist who is helping organize a group to send the front lines of Minnesota. But the fight in N.M. isn’t lost on him, “Shout out to N.M. climate justice for being in solidarity with our relatives up north, coming together in front of Chase bank letting them know what they are funding!” he said. “This is just a job to some, but working for bosses that are all about profit and don’t care about people or the environment. All our challenges are interconnected. The energy industries work together, and they are all interconnected through money. Although today we are supporting our relatives up north, we are not discrediting what we fight or in N.M. Rather, it is a cycle. We support them, and they come to support us.”

Hope Alvarado, a self-proclaimed Navajo Communist and activist at the pipeline protest had this to say: “As Native people, we know what extraction does, and it is one and the same. We are here to show support for the struggles in the Southwest, but also the struggles around the United States. When we look at the third world and extractive industries there, we can see a long history of pollution, contamination, violation of human and Indigenous rights. We, as Indigenous people, protect the land, water and air. It is important to understand these corporations are connected to other industries and corporate money.”

Tom Solomon is with climate change advocacy group 350 New Mexico and has been a longtime advocate for fighting against the oil industry. He brought his group of supporters to the protest and left us with these comments, “We are supporting the Line 3 protest. We have been protesting tar sands pipelines for 10 years now, including Keystone XL Pipeline. We absolutely have to stop building oil and gas infrastructure, including Line 3. We are on the verge of climate disaster. The tar sands pipelines are some of the worst carbon emissions on the planet.”

So how is the little guy supposed to fight against an opposition that is literally embedded in our political system? The tribes and small communities do not have millions of dollars to spend on the fight. But they do have people and voices. Even those that promote themselves as progressives are taking political contribution money from them. According to New Mexico Ethics Watch, even progressive legislators here in New Mexico receive tens of thousands of dollars in support from groups sympathetic to the fracking industry. Ethics Watch’s mission is to show how money spent by the industry may translate into favorable voting, legislation and regulation, as well as the election of industry-supporting candidates.

So in the words of activist Adrian Hanna, “This is our future. Speak up. I want to see saplings in the bosque and electric vehicles and clean air. Don’t be afraid to stand up. Be afraid not to!”