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Thousands call on New Mexico to rein in oil and gas industry’s toxic pollution
In a petition submitted today to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, more than 4,500 urged the Governor to get behind new regulations to protect public health and the environment.
The call comes as the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission this week is slated to consider whether to schedule a hearing to adopt new rules to address the oil and gas industry’s use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.
In May, WildEarth Guardians filed an application requesting the Oil Conservation Commission adopt new rules to address PFAS. The request came on the heels of a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility exposing the oil and gas industry’s use of PFAS in New Mexico.
Over 40 organizations joined in supporting the application and urged the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission to schedule a hearing to adopt the new rules.
“The oil and gas industry must be held accountable to the same public health, welfare, and safety standards as other chemical industries,” the groups stated in a letter submitted with the rulemaking application. “Although Governor Lujan Grisham has petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restrict PFAS use under federal hazardous waste law, oil and gas wastes are exempt from both federal and state hazardous waste law.”
On July 13, the Oil Conservation Commission will decide whether to grant WildEarth Guardians’ application and schedule a rulemaking hearing. The Commission’s consideration of new rules to address PFAS use by the oil and gas industry comes as Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has championed efforts to rein in the use of PFAS and confront water contamination in New Mexico.
In a 2021 EPA petition, the Governor called for regulating PFAS under federal law as an “imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.” While calling for PFAS to be regulated, the oil and gas industry’s waste is exempt from regulation under federal waste law.
Guardians’ call for the Oil Conservation Commission to act aims to ensure the oil and gas industry is held accountable for PFAS use and reporting chemicals used in drilling and fracking.
“Right now, the oil and gas industry is injecting PFAS chemicals underground across New Mexico,” said Melissa Troutman, Climate and Energy Advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “Under current state law, companies can hide where and when they use PFAS as so-called trade secrets. This is why we’ve proposed these new rules for oil and gas PFAS to the Commission.”
PFAS are linked to multiple negative health effects, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, asthma, thyroid disease, and decreased vaccine efficacy.
“PFAS chemicals are not called ‘forever chemicals’ for nothing,” said Antoinette Reyes, Organizer with Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter. “They do not degrade, and these poisons are everywhere in our environment, even in our bodies. This is an important step to forcing companies to reign in the use of these chemicals and find alternatives.”
In addition to PFAS, the oil and gas industry uses other dangerous chemicals linked to health impacts, including benzene, methanol, formaldehyde, lead, and sulfuric acid. While industry has reported that water makes up over 95% of fracking fluid, PFAS and other chemicals are toxic at extraordinarily low amounts.
“To live on the frontlines is to live a life where you constantly wonder how much of your health or life you might lose from exposures to dangerous pollutants such as PFAS,” said Kayley Shoup, Community Organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future. “To task young people with living with the impacts of climate change along with the health impacts that come with environmental injustice is unconscionable.”
“It’s important to recognize that because of environmental racism, communities on the frontlines of extraction are being exposed to these chemicals from multiple sources and because they persist, the effects are cumulative. This poses serious health risks to frontline workers and communities. We need to hold industry accountable and prioritize public health by advancing this rulemaking,” said Ennedith Lopez, Policy Campaign Manager for YUCCA (Youth United for Climate Crisis Action).
New Mexico is already dealing with ongoing groundwater contamination in Clovis, NM from PFAS used at U.S. Air Force bases where a plume of PFAS seeped into groundwater and tainted both private and public water supplies. The New Mexico Environment Department has noted PFAS contamination as one of the Department’s top priorities.
Advocates are engaging with the State Land Office regarding the use of PFAS on state lands and have requested meetings with the Governor and New Mexico Environment Department.
For more on PFAS in the oil and gas industry, visit www.wildearthguardians.org/climate-energy/pfas-toolkit.
WildEarth Guardians is a conservation nonprofit whose mission is to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. Guardians has offices in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, and over 189,000 members and supporters worldwide.