UNM lobbying to remove local regulation of oil and gas extraction will impact the local environment as well as exacerbate climate change. For example, with the prospect of an exploratory oil well being drilled north of Albuquerque and no regulations in place in Bernalillo or Sandoval counties, residents would be left with no say in the impacts of well placement, monitoring of water and air impacts or other surface impacts.

Impacts from oil and gas drilling processing and transportation can significantly outweigh any economic benefits. The impacts from oil and gas drilling, processing and transportation include water and air pollution; increased traffic and damage to local roads; increased demand for fire, police and other emergency services; etc.

The State and Federal governments have no effective regulations for these impacts, so local governments have enacted zoning ordinances, like for any other commercial or industrial development, to manage surface impacts, through common-sense rules that require setbacks from sensitive locations (e.g., homes, streams, water wells, schools), independent monitoring and inspections, pre-development baseline testing and the industry to pay the cost of their impacts. None of these ordinances ban oil and gas development. 

Not surprisingly, the most powerful and profitable special interest group in the world, global fossil fuel industries, is fighting any effort to regulate its activities. In New Mexico, the oil and gas industry is attempting, through their influence in the state legislature, to overturn and preempt the traditional authority, and only tool, of local government to manage the impacts of oil and gas extraction. Preemption rips a huge hole in our democracy by replacing the decisions of locally-elected officials with decisions by state-appointed bureaucrats.

At many universities and colleges around the country, students, staff and alumni are demanding that the schools divest endowments and pension funds from fossil fuel holdings. Meanwhile, UNM is going in the other direction: At hearings on preemption bills during the 2015 legislative session, UNM’s paid lobbyist voiced support for the oil and gas industry, and bills that strip local governments of their zoning authority and their mandate to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens. 

Oil and gas activity has been a faraway concern for most people in the Albuquerque area. However, recent news that an Oklahoma-based company has applied to begin drilling near Rio Rancho brings to their doorstep the very real possibility of impacts from oil and gas activities. State preemption would deprive Albuquerque-area (and all other New Mexico) local governments of their ability to manage surface impacts of these operations.

Although none of the 2015 preemption bills became law, similar bills will be introduced in the upcoming session starting next January, and all local communities will be at risk. The climate and local communities are your future. Contact UNM administrators and state representatives, and ask them to support protection of the local environment and taxpayer from the serious potential impacts by the fossil fuel industry.


Leslie Hammel-Turk

Daily Lobo reader