Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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New Mexicans can now enter their own address into a data Map app to see if they live in an Oil and Gas Threat Zone. This new comprehensive tool supports policymakers and the public’s understanding of what populations are impacted by polluting oil and gas operations, including environmental justice information on traditionally marginalized populations such as children and communities of color. 

The Oil and Gas Threat Zone Map’s new geospatial analysis shows the industry’s production pollution data and links it to specific geographical locations. The innovative Map shows thousands of New Mexico children are living within a half-mile of an oil and gas facility in counties that get “F” grades for air quality. This means there is worse asthma, more lost days at school, and lost days of work for parents. 

“Looking at this map as a frontline community member makes my stomach drop,” said Kayley Shoup, Community Organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future based in Carlsbad. She said the threat map highlights why leaders at every level must do more to not only protect front-line community members but also to enact a managed decline in the production of O&G. 

The Oil and Gas Threat Map was released by Earthworks and clearly shows 144,377 New Mexicans including 38,749 children, residing near or attending schools or daycares living within a ½ mile threat radius of active oil and gas operations. The Oil and Gas Threat Map will also display data about the risks at the county level around the state. 

Health impacts are also associated at distances greater than ½ mile, however, the map conservatively uses the ½ mile mark because it is the distance at which these impacts have most clearly correlated with the health risks of living close to Oil and Gas production. 

Earthworks’ Policy Director Lauren Pagel said no O&G company should be able to burn off methane as waste. “No matter how strong these rules are, climate justice during a climate emergency means using every tool in the toolbox including declaring a National Emergency on climate change,” said 

Science shows that toxic pollutants released along with methane from oil and gas production put people at risk for cancer, respiratory illness, fetal defects, blood disorders, and neurological problems ––and that risk increases for children and the elderly.  

“With production booming in the Permian and tribal communities at risk in the San Juan Basin, strong enforcement of our state rules is more urgent than ever, and the speedy delivery of even stronger federal rules is essential,” advocated Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club – Rio Grande Chapter Director 

The Permian Basin, located in the southeastern part of the state is shown on the map with nearly a 40% increase in Eddy County alone of people living within the threat radius since 2017. Since mid-April 2021, West Texas/New Mexico Permian rig levels have risen by about 100 active rigs to a total of 337—the highest level since the first week of April 2020 and substantially short of pre-pandemic levels near 430. The Permian basin had 1,396 drilled but uncompleted oil and gas wells in February 2022. 

The San Juan Basin has been a major producer of oil and natural gas since the early 20th century, with more than 300 oil fields and over 40,000 drilled wells throughout the area. Nearly 80% of the population In the San Juan Basin lives within this ½ mile radius. 

More than half of the Native population in San Juan County lives within a half-mile of an oil and gas production site. “That’s why we asked the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board for strict air pollution regulations for oil and gas facilities, including more robust protections for people who live near oil and gas wells and we want to see the same from the EPA,” said Joseph Hernandez, Diné Energy Organizer with NAVAEP

The release of the Map’s analysis comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works to finalize its widely supported proposed safeguards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and associated toxic air pollution from new and existing oil and gas facilities.  The EPA is also preparing to introduce a supplemental rule to address routine flaring and smaller leak-prone wells.  

Finalized methane and ozone precursor rules recently enacted in New Mexico, set a strong foundation for federal rules that would protect all communities like those in Texas, where regulations are limited, including along the Texas border and into New Mexico.

Jon Goldstein, Senior Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, EDF. said front-line communities need the assurance that smaller wells with leak-prone equipment will be monitored, and intentionally-polluting equipment like pneumatic controllers will be phased out, and the polluting and wasteful practice of routine flaring will be ended.

ADDITIONAL OIL AND GAS THREAT MAP INFORMATION:  

  • To see the map and analysis, including data in spreadsheet form, video of the pollution that constitutes the threat, video interviews of impacted residents, and the science underlying the threat radius, visit oilandgasthreatmap.com
  • New Mexico Threat Map fact sheet 
  • 5/24 Press Conference Recording
  • NM data spreadsheet
  • NM Presentation of the map
  • April 2022 from Eddy County methane infrared video
  • ALA – State of the Air Report – 2022 (See Ozone Pollution)