What you need to know to help protect our Land of Enchantment
First uranium mine in New Mexico in 30 years
For the first time in 30 years, New Mexico may open our doors to uranium mining. Canadian company Strathmore Minerals and Japanese company Sumitomo are attempting to open a new 1,929 acre mine dubbed “Roca Honda.” If opened, it would be the largest uranium mine in the nation. Industry would like to open the mine near Mount Taylor in Cibola County. The mountain is considered a sacred site by 15 Native American tribes and pueblos in Arizona and New Mexico.
To move forward, the mine has to pass three key steps: the approval of a U.S. Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement, a New Mexico Environment Department permit, and a New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources water permit. In May 2013, the U.S. Forest Service began soliciting public comment for their draft Environmental Impact Statement.
CVNM Education Fund opposes the proposed mine because:
- Roca Honda will waste New Mexico’s water. The proposed Roca Honda mine will require the use of millions of gallons of water a day. This water will be pumped from the underground aquifer on which our communities rely on for groundwater. This is especially troubling given the state’s crippling water shortages. As of June 2013, approximately 98% of New Mexico was experiencing severe drought.
- We cannot ignore the legacy of uranium contamination. According to the Environmental Protection Agency from 1944 to 1986 nearly four million tons of uranium ore were mined and extracted from Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Today, this region is home to more than 500 abandoned uranium mines. These mines leak contaminants into groundwater, release radon into the air, and contribute to health problems of residents living in contaminated communities. New Mexico is still struggling to secure funds to clean up these legacy waste sites. We can’t allow new uranium mines when past pollution has been left for New Mexicans to clean up.
- Impacts to people’s health haven’t been adequately studied. Communities are living with the contamination of the past. Families living nearby abandoned uranium mines and mills notice increased rates of cancers and other health problems. For example, state health assessments report that between 2008 and 2010, cancer was the leading cause of death in McKinley County (located directly west of Mount Taylor). To proceed with more mines without knowing the scope of impact to people’s health is dangerous and deadly.
- US Drought Monitor: New Mexico. <http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu> June 6th, 2013.
- EPA. “The Legacy of Abandoned Uranium Mines in the Grants Mineral Belt, New Mexico”. November 2011. <http://www.epa.gov/region6/6sf/newmexico/grants/uranium-mine-brochure.pdf>
- New Mexico Department of Health. “McKinley County Community Health Highlights Introduction”. <http://ibis.health.state.nm.us/community/highlight/introduction/GeoCnty/31.html>
The Martinez Administration guts the pit rules
Despite broad support that New Mexicans, like you, expressed to keep strong pit rules on the books to protect our groundwater, Governor Martinez’s Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) approved amendments by two oil and gas associations that put our water supplies at risk.
Among other rollbacks, the new rules:
- Allow for burial of wastes contaminated with high levels of dangerous chemicals near groundwater and set such high toxin concentration standards that they are useless, much like having a 300 mile per hour speed limit.
- Allow for multi-well fluid management pits–large “frack lakes”—with no limit on size or length of time for use
- Significantly decrease the distance at which pits can be located by homes, water wells and arroyos
- Do not require baseline data collection, making it difficult to prove that a pit has leaked
Last year, amidst hearings to consider the pit rules amendments, CVNM Education Fund and SouthWest Organizing Project delivered over 12,000 petitions from across the state to the Governor’s office in support of protecting our strong pit rules.
Unfortunately, the Martinez administration didn’t listen. One thing is clear: the Martinez administration’s values are out of step with those of the majority of New Mexicans.
But the fight doesn’t end here. Call Governor Martinez at 505.476.2200 and let her know you support keeping our water clean and are disappointed in the OCC ruling. Write a letter to the editor or call us and we can help you get further involved to protect our water.
In 2008, the OCC signed the final version of the pit rules into law. The pit rules were adopted after extensive input from industry, ranchers, conservationists and residents. It governs the treatment and disposal of toxic wastes from oil and gas production and, despite evidence that it effectively avoids contamination, the oil and gas industry has attacked it from all sides.
New Mexico’s pit rules were the strongest in the nation and were adopted in order to protect our groundwater from contamination that threatens public safety. Late last year, two oil and gas associations filed petitions to dismantle the pit rules. The OCC began final deliberations on the pit rules in September 2012. The OCC met three times to discuss the rule.
Unfortunately, the prospects of saving the rule were never very good: two of the three members of the OCC are appointees of the Martinez administration, which has long expressed its intention to get rid of the rule.
Why we need the Pit Rule
Since 1992, the oil and gas industry self-reported 421 cases of groundwater contamination caused by waste disposal pits. After the adoption of the rule, there had not been a single reported case of groundwater contamination from an oil or gas waste pit!
The seriousness of the problem can’t be overstated: not only are New Mexico’s water supplies precious and scarce, but the health of our families and communities is threatened by contaminated drinking water.
No impact on industry
Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry seem willing to jeopardize public health and safety by dismantling the pit rules. They claim they are reversing the rule in order to create jobs because they argue that the pit rules have driven down oil and gas production.
But that simply isn’t true.
Although oil and gas production has declined in recent years, the drop has been the result of oil and gas prices, not the pit rules. For almost six months after implementation of the original pit rules, the rig count in New Mexico actually increased by approximately 25%—to near all-time highs. The rig count only dropped when the price of oil plummeted from $133 to less than $55 per barrel.
New Mexico’s original rule strikes a common-sense balance between drillers’ rights and those of citizens. Many New Mexico drillers support keeping the pit rules; the upfront expense is a reasonable cost of doing business. Some even say closed-loop systems save them money and reduce liability.
New Mexicans speak up
Many New Mexicans spoke in support of our strong pit rules at OCC hearings throughout 2012 and 2013. After multiple hearings stretching into 2013, the OCC met February 15 and approved amendments to the Pit Rule made by two industry trade groups. During that hearing, the OCC did not allow for testimony from conservation groups.
With such a clear message from New Mexicans, why dismantle a tool that is so essential to protecting clean water?
Help us spread the message. Call Governor Martinez at 505.476.2200 and let her know you support keeping our water clean and are disappointed in the OCC ruling. Write a letter to the editor or call us and we can help you get further involved to protect our water.
We want to hear from you too!
Tell us why water is important to you and what you think about weakening protections for our groundwater. Call us at 505.992.8683 or email Liliana@CVNM.org.
Follow these links for more information on the Pit Rule:
- The original pit rules
- Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project
- New Mexico Oil Conservation Division
Governor Martinez’s appointed EIB dismantles New Mexico cap-and-trade program
In February and March 2012, the NM Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) voted to dismantle the state cap-and-trade rule. In December 2011, the board repealed the state’s participation in a regional cap-and-trade program. The fossil fuel industry continues to fight to keep New Mexico in the Dark Ages. Call Governor Susanna Martinez and ask her to stop attacking our common sense safeguards. Her office number is 505.476.2200.
For the past several years, New Mexico has been working with other western states and Canadian provinces on the Western Climate Initiative (WCI)—a regional cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and jumpstart our local clean energy economy.
Pursuant to the Air Quality Control Act, the EIB was petitioned to craft rules for carbon pollution reduction in 2008, and a cap-and-trade program consistent with WCI in 2010.
The first petition, led by conservation allies New Energy Economy (NEE) and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), required the biggest emitters to reduce carbon pollution by 3% per year from 2010 baseline levels beginning in 2013. The program would not go into effect—or would phase out—if the state adopts a regional program, such as a WCI proposal, or if similar national legislation is enacted.
A second petition, spearheaded by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), called for the state to adopt rules that would enable New Mexico to participate in a regional greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program with other members of the WCI.
The EIB held a series of exhaustive hearings to evaluate both proposals. After months of debate, discussion, and public input from New Mexicans across the state, the Board voted to adopt both proposals: NMED’s proposal passed in Nov. 2010; NEE’s passed in Dec. 2010. Both rules represented a critical step in fighting climate change that is aggravating drought, wildfires, and public health problems. They also sent an important signal to companies and investors that New Mexico is committed to building a clean energy economy.
Unfortunately, every step forward in tackling carbon pollution was met with fierce opposition – mostly from fossil fuel-dependent industries and the Martinez administration. In January 2011, Governor Martinez appointed new members to the EIB.
Two petitions were filed with the new EIB to rescind the very carbon pollution rules that it passed in 2010. The EIB held hearings in Santa Fe throughout November and December 2011 to discuss these petitions and the dismantling of both climate rules.
- For EIB hearing dates and information, click here.
- To read New Mexico’s cap-and-trade program language, click here.
- To read New Mexico’s carbon pollution reduction program language, click here.
- To read the petitions to rescind the carbon pollution control and reduction programs, click here.