Northwestern New Mexico at Risk from BLM Fracking Plan
WildEarth Guardians, San Juan Citizens Alliance Challenge Massive Shale Gas Drilling
Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator, San Juan
Citizens Alliance, (505) 325-6724
Farmington, NM—WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens
Alliance late yesterday fired back against the Bureau of Land Management’s
plans to open the door for a massive new fracking project in northwestern New
Mexico that threatens clean air, wildlife, and the climate.
“Drilling for oil and gas has already taken a tremendous
toll on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the outdoors that we depend
on,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program
Director. “This latest proposal
threatens to push us over the brink, giving industry unfettered permission to
undertake massive fracking at the expense of our environment.”
The groups are challenging the first proposal ever approved
by the Bureau of Land Management to allow the oil and gas industry to tap shale
gas using horizontal drilling in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New
Mexico. Although the region has
been drilled extensively, the practice of horizontal drilling to access shale
gas has never before been commercially viable.
In a Statement of Reasons filed as part of an appeal of the
Middle Mesa Plan of Development, the groups pointed out that the proposed
fracking project would allow Williams Production (now called WPX) to drill 53
new shale gas wells and undertake a total of 636 fracking jobs over a five-year
period. According to the Bureau of
Land Management, each fracking job will require 420,000 gallons of fluid for a
total of 267,120,000 gallons.
The fracking would occur near the Navajo Reservoir on the
San Juan River and in an area that is facing increased air quality challenges. And in allowing WPX to undertake the
project, the Bureau of Land Management waived seasonal restrictions on drilling
meant to protect deer and elk.
“The Bureau of Land Management analysis of this new
technology is underwhelming, particularly given the significant impacts expected
concerning water, air and water, and the fact that the 2003 BLM planning
document for the area did not assess horizontal drilling for shale. The BLM prepared an Environmental
Assessment for a new drilling program for shale that has never been adequately
analyzed for full field development, with no recognition of the significant
existing cumulative impacts in the project area from decades of conventional
natural gas drilling and operations,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy
Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Horizontal drilling for shale
gas is new and it carries risks that have yet to be assessed by the Bureau of
Land Management,” said Eisenfeld.
“With our air, our water, and our lands at stake, we need to ensure that
the jump into horizontal drilling and fracking for shale gas is as safe as
possible and that the BLM is thoroughly analyzing the entire scale of
operations associated with this proposal.
That’s not too much to ask.”
The groups are calling on the Interior Board of Land Appeals
in Washington, D.C. to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to
allow the Middle Mesa project to proceed because the agency failed to take into
account the full risk of horizontal shale gas drilling.
For example, the agency did not analyze the air quality
impacts of the drilling. Yet
recent air pollution inventories show that ground-level ozone forming volatile
organic compound emissions are thirty times higher than originally expected. Ozone, the key ingredient of smog that
can trigger asthma attacks, is a persistent problem in the San Juan Basin. According to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, in 2011, federal health limits on ozone air pollution were
exceeded three times.
The Bureau of Land Management also ignored reports showing
that the development of shale gas wells releases more greenhouse gas emissions
than traditional wells.
WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance
pointed to the fact that the 2003 Resource Management Plan for the Farmington
Field Office, which covers the Middle Mesa area, actually found that horizontal
drilling was not even a viable technology that would be used in the next 20
Despite this, the Bureau of Land Management relied on its
management plan in asserting that the risks of horizontal drilling have already
The Interior Board of Land Appeals is not expected to issue
a ruling on the appeal until the end of the year. In the meantime, WPX has indicated that, due to economic
concerns with the low prices for natural gas, the Middle Mesa project will be
on hold for 2012.