Top stories of 2018: From WIPP to Shorthorn Little League

Amanda Macias
Carlsbad Current-Argus

CARLSBAD — While oil and gas was a constant topic of discussion in Eddy County, other issues caught the attention of readers in 2018. 

From sports to education, the following are the top five Current-Argus stories of the year, in no particular order.

WIPP: A year after re-opening 

Leadership at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant believe the facility is operating at a “new normal” after the facility was reopened in 2017 following a three-year shutdown caused by an accidental radiological release in 2014.  

Moving forward, Bruce Covert, President of Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) which oversees day-to-day operations at the underground nuclear waste repository, said improvements to WIPP’s aging infrastructure is one of the facility’s top priorities.

More:WIPP moves forward with infrastructure upgrades a year after reopening

Todd Shrader, manager of the Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) said some of the infrastructure at WIPP is decades old, and must be repaired or replaced to continue waste emplacement.

Racism in CHS

A civil rights organization alleged District Judge Lisa Riley made racist comments to Carlsbad High School Principal Adam Amador during a discussion about a student demonstration on school grounds. 

More:Complaint claims Carlsbad school district guilty of defamation against district judge

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), in a letter to former Carlsbad Municipal Schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Rodriguez and the Carlsbad Municipal Schools board, alleged a "witch hunt" against Amador in retaliation for his handling of a student demonstration organized by Riley's son last May. 

The letter alleged Riley called Amador a "dumb Mexican" during a May 2 phone conversation.

Riley denied the allegations, claiming others could corroborate her version of the conversation. 

Rodriguez and Amador are no longer with the school district. 

Death in the oilfield 

An oilfield worker was killed and another injured after a tank battery caught fire off U.S. Refinery Road near Loving. 

Kelly Swan with WPX, the owner of the facility, said both victims were employees at separate companies working at the WPX facility.

More:Man burned beyond recognition in fatal Loving tank battery fire

The facility contains a saltwater disposal well for oil byproducts from extraction operations, along with injection pumps and storage tanks. All of the tanks burned in the fire. 

"This is a serious situation that resulted in the worst possible outcome, which is loss of life," Swan said. "Human life matters more than anything else, and we will certainly work with the authorities to find answers as quickly as we can."

Questions over city's growth

Members of the City of Carlsbad staff and Carlsbad Department of Development said recent data on the population of Eddy County and Carlsbad, released by the U.S. Census Bureau, falls short by at least 20,000. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the 2017 population of Eddy County at 56,997.

More:County officials: Eddy County estimated population falls short of reality

Carlsbad was home to an estimated 28,914 people in 2016 — Artesia to 12,232 — according to Bureau data. 

John Waters, executive director of the Carlsbad Department of Development, said a water use study indicates the population in and around Carlsbad — which includes a 20-minute radius — to be closer to 75,000.

Eddy County Board of Commissioners Chair Susan Crockett said she too believes the population of Eddy County to be under reported.

"We truly don't have any way of knowing," Crockett said.

Permian potential grows

Oil and gas drilling rigs are at an all-time high in New Mexico, as Baker Hughes reported 103 rigs throughout the state – the highest number in more than three years.  

More:New Mexico reaches record-breaking rig count, as Permian continues to grow

Records show New Mexico reached 103 in October and December of 2014, which overcame the previous record of 101 rigs in 2006.

The recent data places New Mexico as third in the nation for active drilling rigs, following an increase of four rigs from the 99 reported by Baker Hughes on July 6, 2017. 

Shorthorns win

For the first time in 12 years the City of Carlsbad had a 12-year old baseball team win the state title and enter the Little League World Series regional tournament.

More:Shorthorn eliminated in SW Regional baseball tournament

Carlsbad Shorthorn’s season came to an end in the Southwest Regional Tournament, but not before reaching the semifinals of the tournament, losing its final game to Oklahoma, 3-2.

Despite the season ending before Shorthorn reached the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania, Shorthorn coach Josh Quintela was proud of his team not just making the regional tournament but winning games and getting close to winning the tournament.

Amanda Macias can be reached at AMacias1@currentargus.com.