Lawless in Santa Fe
By Gwen Lachelt
May 15, 2012
The picture is now clear.
The oil and gas industry is getting away with developing new rules for shale oil and gas development by amending the Pit Rule.
However, in a strange twist, Jami Bailey, the chair of New Mexico's oil and gas oversight agency, would not admit the 8,000 pages of testimony and exhibits put forward in the 17-day hearing held in 2007 to develop the Pit Rule. She claims this is a whole new rule. Industry claims they are simply amending the Pit Rule. How can they have it both ways? The travesty is unfolding this week in Santa Fe.
A rulemaking typically involves a stakeholder process and a hearing. A thoughtful process to develop common sense rules that prevent and minimize the social, environmental and economic impacts of oil and gas development.
Once again, the oil and gas industry is treating the people of New Mexico as guinea pigs in their reckless pursuit of natural gas.
The industry wants to develop multiple, multi-well pads (up to 2 miles apart) using a centralized pit for produced water and fracking flowback fluids.
This is not your grandaddy's oil and gas waste pit. This is more like a lake. Like the huge impoundments we’ve all seen in pictures of shale gas development in Pennsylvania. The “pits” that have driven many Pennsylvanians from their homes due to odors and health problems.
Now we're talking about "jurisdictional dams." However, dams without any oversight or approval. Today in New Mexico, jurisdictional dams must be approved by the Office of the State Engineer and meet design standards so there’s at least some hope that they won’t leak and pollute soil and groundwater.
But in this rushed hearing process to "amend the Pit Rule" industry wants Jami Bailey and her 3-member Oil Conservation Commission to wave their wand and presto-chango, say that jurisdictional dams are just bigger pits and don't need any approval or permit from the State Engineer.
We are talking about toxic lakes with no way to keep away livestock, wildlife and migratory birds. Produced water and fracking flowback fluids aren’t exactly the kinds of things you just store in vast open pits. Well, unless you’re the oil and gas industry.
So, while you are waving your wand and turning pits into lakes, allow them to be 100 feet from schools and stock tanks, 25 feet from groundwater and oh, when we're done with the lake, we'll just cover it up and bury it. We don’t want to bother with hauling away our toxic stuff.
The ranchers who have testified at the hearing this week are just a little outraged that it was ever legal in the first place for the oil and gas industry to bury their toxic waste on their land.
Lawless in Santa Fe.