New Mexico is an oil and gas colony. The fossil fuel industry has operated in our state for over a century, taking hundreds of billions of dollars in New Mexico profits while leaving an expensive mess for New Mexicans to clean up. As industry leaders brag about their contributions to the New Mexico budget, the cost of cleaning up the mess they left us pales in comparison to their contributions.
There are an estimated 60,000 inactive wells statewide. They contaminate our groundwater, release methane into the atmosphere, impact wildlife habitat and endanger the health of our people. It’s also worth noting that there are 53,000 other active wells in New Mexico that will need to be cleaned up someday.
The New Mexico state land office estimates that the state only holds $ 201 million in “financial insurance” against the total price of $ 8.3 billion for closing and cleaning the wells. This is only 2.4% of what we will actually need.
Who makes this difference? The oil and gas industry expects you and I to pay. I can’t afford it. Our schools can’t afford it, our roads can’t afford it, and our state government certainly can’t afford it.
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The oil and gas industry is dying. New Mexico will lose 38% of its oil and gas jobs by the end of the summer. Nationally, the oil and gas industry laid off 118,000 workers this year alone.
Our delegation in Congress must commit to introducing and passing the Abandoned Wells Act of 2021. This bill would create an Abandoned Wells Administration (AWA) and implement the necessary regulation of oil and gas production. . The AWA would employ a new federal workforce of displaced oil and gas workers. It would (also) safely identify and decommission millions of oil and gas wells and related infrastructure.
From drilling managers and drillers, to thugs and vagrants, these people have valuable skills needed to make our communities safer and healthier. AWA paychecks will pay off local mortgages, fund local governments and schools, and support real families.
We wouldn’t be facing a growing orphan well crisis if current regulations were sufficient. We need to eliminate the use of blanket bonds and cancel all current tax exemptions and tax incentives that encourage the industry to simply walk away from the mess they create. New Mexico must deploy “cost solidarity” and retroactively enforce “joint and several liability” on all oil and gas wells so that major oil and gas companies don’t just “dine and rush” , letting the little guys pay for their mess or go bankrupt.
Of course, industry attorneys will complain about the higher fees, claiming that we charge the “good” actors for a few “bad” actors. But the alternative is that you and I bear these costs.
Are we going to continue to be an oil and gas colony? Are we going to allow this industry that has benefited so much from our natural resources to push us further into poverty, force higher taxes and limit our ability to create a prosperous New Mexico for our children?
What will the future of New Mexico be like?
Jim O’Donnell lives in Taos.