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Northwestern New Mexico at Risk from Bureau of Land Management Fracking Plan

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Northwestern New Mexico at Risk from Bureau of Land Management Fracking Plan

WildEarth Guardians

WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance fired back late March 5 against the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 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 years.

Despite this, the Bureau of Land Management relied on its management plan in asserting that the risks of horizontal drilling have already been analyzed.

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.

For more information, click here.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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