Groups launch online oil and gas 'threat' map
FARMINGTON — A coalition of environmental groups launched an interactive online map today that shows users how close oil and gas operations may be to where they live.
The Oil and Gas Threat Map, which includes the locations of 58,777 active oil and gas facilities in the state, includes searchable data on homes, schools and hospitals within a half-mile radius of fossil fuels-based operations.
The groups said in a conference call related to the map's release that peer-reviewed science shows an associated health risk from living near oil and gas facilities, including fetal defects and respiratory ailments.
According to the map's data, 145,608 people in New Mexico, 89 schools and four medical facilities are at risk of negative impacts from oil and gas development statewide.
Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a release that the oil and gas industry is putting communities' health at risk every day and accelerating climate change.
"Right now, the oil and gas industry is recklessly leaking millions of tons of methane pollution and toxic chemicals such as such as benzene, formaldehyde and ethylbenzene into the air that harm our health and speed up climate change," Feibelman said. "These industrial leaks are like an invisible oil spill happening every day. That pollution can have devastating health impacts on the communities surrounding oil and gas development."
A major component of natural gas, methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The map — found at oilandgasthreatmap.com — also offers interactive components like pop-up testimonials by community members and infrared video showing what is otherwise odorless and invisible to the naked eye: methane vapors leaked or vented from oil and gas facilities.
Alan Septoff of the Washington, D.C.-based Earthworks worked on the map, which, he said, was developed with emissions data collected from the EPA. Septoff said the map was a way to make more people aware of their proximity to oil and gas development, and the health impacts industry activity poses to people.
"We built it to get people help," Septoff said. "It's (about) making people aware of what's going on. What we have found is that people living near oil and gas facilities are more concerned."
On June 21, the group will host a follow-up webinar on the the map at riograndesierraclub.org.
Raising concern will prompt action, and the group aims to direct a willingness to act toward support for federal rules like the EPA's recently finalized methane rule that regulates new development, Feibelman said.
Oilman Tom Dugan has been in the oil and gas business in the San Juan Basin for 57 years and said that for people living in San Juan County, oil and gas facilities are as common as box stores and sandstone bluffs.
Now 90 years old, Dugan, said he started his independent Farmington company, Dugan Production Corp., in 1959, raised a family in town, and believes that the potent greenhouse gas has been a benefit to him, the industry and the community.
"People in this town know it's not a problem," Dugan said. "Well pads are all around us. They are just blowing methane out of proportion."
Two weeks ago, Dugan Production completed drilling four 800-foot-deep coal-bed methane wells on the company's leased land southeast of Farmington. This week, those wells are being completed — the process of making a drilled well ready to be placed into production.
Dugan said the health impacts of oil and gas production are wildly overstated, and he is dubious about the purported science behind any potential health impacts associated with the industry.
Naturally formed coal-bed outcrops where the sedimentary Fruitland Formation rises to the surface on the outer edges of the San Juan Basin are a significant source of atmospheric methane concentrations in the region, he said.
"That's why we came here, for the methane," he said. "There are seeps here that will burn (if lit), and you can sell that. At least, that's why I came here in 1952. Methane, it's great to have. It's not going to give you a heart attack. Some of the environmentalists fart, and that's methane. People work their whole lives around oil and gas, and don't have any health problems. I was born on (an oil) lease (in Kansas). It hasn't hurt me, and I've been around it all my life."
James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.