Carlsbad residents, oil and gas officials seek solutions to extraction fears
Marlene Aucoin lives directly across the road from an oilfield.
The mother of two said her concern for her children’s safety has only grown during the recent boom.
While she couldn’t verify if air pollution from oil and gas has caused the sores on her face, or nearby birds to die, Aucoin said she’s observed these problems more frequently as operators move in.
The Aucoin family lives on Thomason Road just outside Carlsbad city limits in southern Eddy County, where oil and gas operations have increased significantly in the last year.
That means more flare stacks, tank batteries and well pads closer and closer to homes like the Aucoin’s.
“We don’t want to shut it down,” Aucoin said of the oil and gas industry. “We live here. I want to feel safe in my home.”
Aucoin spoke about her concerns during a public meeting, Thursday, at the Riverwalk Recreation Center, hosted by Earthworks – a Washington D.C. environmentalist group with field offices in multiple western states.
The organization used Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) cameras, which are calibrated to pick up volatile organic compounds (VOCs) allegedly leaking out of oil and gas developments.
While the cameras do not specify exactly what chemicals are leaking from developments in the footage, Earthworks New Mexico and Colorado field advocate Nathalie Eddy said it can start the conversation.
“We make the invisible visible,” she said. “We can’t always see with the naked eye if there is something that could be dangerous. This is a way to start that conversation about pollution that could be impacting health.”
After driving out to southern Eddy County’s oilfield, and using the camera, Eddy said Earthworks filed about 25 complaints with the New Mexico Environment Department in the last year.
She said there was very little response, except from Sendero Midstream, which corrected an open thief hatch.
When FLIR footage of an alleged leak at Sendero’s natural gas processing plant on Bounds Road in Loving was viewed by Sendero Midstream CEO Clay Bretches during an interview with the Current-Argus, Bretches said it was concerning and would be mitigated right away.
Clint Cone, Sendero operations manager, said the hatch was left open by a contracted trucking company.
That company, Cone said, was informed that if such mistakes continue Sendero sever its deal.
“We addressed everything from that. We talked to the trucking company that left the hatch open,” Cone said. “We said if it keeps happening, we’ll not do business with them. We want to protect the environment.”
Sendero plans to open up to four more plants in southeast New Mexico, and Cone said following regulations and cutting down pollution are essential.
“We do monitoring on a regular basis. We follow the process,” he said. “We are trying to be good operators and members of the community. If I get a call, I’ll go check it out.”
But Charles Aucoin, Marlene’s husband and a former welding professor, said the expansion of oil and gas in his community will always carry inherent concerns, not only with pollution but by stressing the area’s public infrastructure.
He’s lived in the area since the age of nine, and said the boom and bust cycle has repeated numerous times during the last decades.
“We have the chemical issue. We have the traffic,” he said. “We’ve seen the boom and bust before, but this seems like a big deal. It’s not safe for us to drive. I worry about the long-term impact and if we are going to see anything to fix that damage.”
Randy Poston, Sendero construction superintendent said hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling could help address some of the residents’ concerns, as the newer “unconventional” practices result in drilling less wells.
He said a horizontal well could produce as much crude product as 20 conventional wells.
“It’s less wellbores, less tank batteries, less chance for a risk,” he said. “You do have to frack the wells, but there is less risk. The bigger companies coming in, you’ll see better regulations and following the rules. All of it starts at the top."
As for the traffic, Poston said that could be solved by more pipelines, which he called on the state and federal government to expedite.
Permitting from the federal Bureau of Land Management can take up to nine months, Poston said, a sticking point for companies looking to develop and install lines in the area.
“If we had more pipelines out here, we’d have less traffic,” he said. “We can put this underground in a safe atmosphere. That would address a lot of people’s concerns. They need to bring some of that tax revenue back to Eddy and Lea counties.”
Even with better oversight and infrastructure, Eddy still worried hydraulic fracturing could pose a threat to the environment by creating produced water as a byproduct.
“The problem with fracking that we’re seeing is that it is hurting the people, it’s hurting the environment,” she said. “It’s that chemical mix that is coming back up. We don’t know what it is.
“The Permian is where it’s at. It’s happening so fast. The emissions are exceeding anything our thermographers have ever seen.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.