“We can save the planet, and we have a responsibility to do so.” - Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham
by Rod Torrez
Last week, I attended a very informative event in Albuquerque organized by the Moms Clean Air Force. The public discussion addressed the impacts of oil and gas development on New Mexico communities. As many people know by now, the largest methane “hotspot” hovers over northern New Mexico, and oil and gas development in New Mexico is affecting communities water, air and access to public lands.
Laura Paskus, who works as both an independent reporter well as a radio reporter for Albuquerque’s public station KUNM, moderated. She has followed the oil and gas development issues closely in her reporting. When she asked the audience if they knew about the methane hotspot, just about everybody in the capacity crowd raised their hands. As I looked around the room, I saw a lot of familiar faces, New Mexicans who are involved in conservation and environmental advocacy, as well as representatives of some larger, more national organizations.
Four leaders discussed the issues from the community perspectives of Native American and Latino communities, from the public health perspective, and the political perspective. The panel discussion focused heavily on Northern New Mexico, as tens of thousands of wells are concentrated there.
Colleen Cooley of Diné C.A.R.E. brought to light the impacts of oil and gas development as it directly impacts the Navajo Nation in the San Juan Basin. Many long-standing communities have been surrounded by drilling operations and residents have seen impacts to their water, their air and even their social well-being.
Similarly, Ana Malinali X Gutiérrez Sisneros discussed impacts on communities in Rio Arriba County, which borders the eastern edge of the San Juan Basin. “All that air comes our way,” she explained. Moreover, Rio Arriba County is also subject to new drilling in the future, and there is a need to let communities have a say in how and where drilling should or should not occur in the region as development spreads eastward.
Dr. Dona Upson of Albuquerque brought to light the seriousness of the health impacts that air pollution has on children and older adults, exacerbating asthma and other respiratory diseases, and expressed her concern not only as a physician, but also as a mother and someone who enjoys the outdoors.
United States Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, who represents New Mexico’s First District, spoke passionately and hopefully about the importance of protecting community health, as well as the value of having new, stronger federal agency rules to regulate methane venting and flaring and emissions in the oil and gas industry. She spoke honestly of the challenges of dealing with the issues of environmental justice and climate change in the present Congress, and encouraged the audience to keep voicing their concerns to their community leaders and elected officials.
In all, the event was not only informative, but inspiring, and I could not help but feel that this is just the beginning. Many of us in the room have been part of the chorus of voices addressing the issues of oil and gas development in the west for some time now. If we are going to improve the health of our communities and protect our air, our water and our land, which, as Congresswoman Lujan Grisham aptly noted is our responsibility, then it’s up to us to widen the audience, and take these messages directly to people who are being affected by pollution and the other impacts of development.
[tweetthis]Moms Clean Air Force arms New Mexico with facts about #natgas development. #Latinos4Conservation[/tweetthis]