By Kent Salazar, HECHO Advisory Board Member
On February 16th, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held a public hearing in Farmington, NM on their proposal to update regulations to address the wasteful release of natural gas into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations on public and Tribal lands.
I arrived early and there were already several hundred people in attendance – many more than I expected. There were the usual players including industry reps and individuals from environmental groups like the Sierra Club, but there were also tribal people, religious and interfaith people and elected officials – such as the Mayor of Farmington, the Mayor of Bloomfield, and HECHO’s Arizona spokesperson, Liz Archuleta.
Industry groups had circulated information about how these new regulations would cost jobs, creating a lot of fear about the local economy.
Public testimony began at 1:00 and people were taken in order of arrival – the first people to speak were elected officials and the people who arrived early. There were 4 elected officials including Rio Arriba County that all spoke for the regulation; plus, we presented a letter of support signed by 40 elected officials including: Representative Michele Lujan Grisham, Senator Tom Udall and Senator Martin Heinrich. I didn’t talk until 5:30pm. It was a long day.
Farmington already has the highest unemployment rate in the state because the price of oil has dropped and industry has laid off a lot of people. With that in mind, you can see why this is a sensitive issue for workers, the industry, and the local officials concerned about the local economy, but in places where similar regulations have already been enacted, like CO, WY, and ND the industry has actually benefited from these type of regulations. Yes, they’re paying to upgrade facilities, but it ends up reducing leakage and waste, which increases profits. While it costs about $27,000 per well to upgrade, industry is recovering that cost within a year with increased production.
The majority of the testimony for the day was in favor of regulation. People were frustrated with the senseless waste – the waste of royalties that could benefit local communities and the waste of a finite natural resource that is supposed to belong to all of us. I brought up how retrofitting can actually create new jobs. Tribal people spoke out about how it affected their way of life and their health and the loss of royalties for their communities. Several people spoke out about the affects on local Hispanic communities as far as pollution – about clean air and how it affects wildlife as well as people. Another critical concern was the effect on the environment in regards to climate change. Methane is much more detrimental to the atmosphere than CO2 because it’s 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas. That gives this issue a real sense of urgency. We need to take care of this now.
At the end of the day, all of the groups in support of the updated regulations did a great job. They spread the word, took time off work in the middle of the week, carpooled, and brought lots of people to the hearing. We made our diverse voices heard.