boom or bust baby: passing gas in mora county, nm.

As the cities partake in green vision quests dreaming a carbon neutral future, rural New Mexicans tremble at the possibility that this beautiful landscape of potential will be poked, polluted and gutted with pipelines, roads, flares and holding ponds wrought by a natural gas boom carried in on the wings of climate change.

With the Federal administration pushing natural gas cars and energy options as the stepping stone to reducing CO2 emissions on target with a new global deal, those of us sitting atop split estates are experiencing how the agenda of large global corporations have begun to take precedence over community concerns like quality of life, the future of our land base, and of course water, the life blood of existence here in New Mexico.

At the end of the year the world meets in Copenhagen to hash out a new climate agreement which will supersede the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto should have driven global emissions down to 1990 levels, but without the participation of the USA—which produced approximately 25% of the world’s carbon emissions until it was recently overtaken by China—there has been an increase in emissions. Copenhagen is a different story, with Obama on board the emission impossible task on the table this time has politicians promoting alternatives alongside renewables such as natural gas, nuclear power and ‘clean’ coal. These are nothing but old resource intensive industries dressed in emperor’s new clothes.

The drive behind the current motion to buy-up sub-surface mineral rights is directly connected to the national agenda on climate change. With 80% of land ownership falling into the category of a split estate many folk are finding that they only own the surface of their land, while sub-surface rights—the dominant estate—are bought by prospectors and sold to oil and gas companies. Under ‘Takings Law’ a rig can set-up 100 feet from your house, use enormous amounts of water and routinely inject “non-proprietary fluids” into the ground. This undisclosed cocktail of chemicals is not only exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Drinking Water Acts, but ends up in surface ponds (some lined, some not) , contaminates wells, causes severe health problems, can poison cattle, deplete the water table, and ruin the integrity of all life in the area.

Given the enormity of the problem humanity currently faces as carbon levels rise to tip the very basis of life into trauma, it is somewhat understandable that the primary decision makers—government, business, intellectuals—should rally to pull out all the stops and put every energy option on the table. But it doesn’t make sense to consider short term profits at the expense of the environment, especially given the fact that we have renewable technologies that achieve the same result without harming the environment or the lives of people who depend on this fragile land base for survival.

Unfortunately, short sighted decision making at the federal level filters down to the local. In Mora County Shell Oil recently submitted a re-write of the county Land Use Plan removing references to historic agricultural practices in favor of drilling and development. Meanwhile, protests submitted by hundreds of county residents fall on deaf ears as a new county court house rises in the sky. At 55,000 square feet this anti-Christ of green has enough room for every county resident and their milk goat with room to spare. This is a heavy weight for future generations to bear, yet a weight that Shell revels in as they ride the wave of global demise to bring hope in the form of a dark angel swinging her sword of destruction so the county can pay it’s dues on time.

These are critical times. Decisions made today shape the not too distant future, yet some very bad decisions are already on the table and are primarily influenced by the lure of money and power. Instead, we need holistic actions which consider the bigger picture without compromising the integrity of the land. These include feed-in tariff’s from household solar arrays, mini-hydro, geothermal and local small scale wind technologies, alongside a decision making process that encourages food production, efficient building, and less consumption with the promotion of local markets. Such a long term bioregional perspective not only creates economy for poor rural communities, but empowers folk with the tools and consciousness to move forward into a world where decisions are made by and for the benefit of all, instead of a few corporate hogs vying to squeeze the last drop of profit from an already compromised earth.

I encourage those of you comfortable with the easy flick of a switch to think twice about where your energy comes from. Natural gas may seem benign on the surface, but it’s creating a host of problems not only for those of us busy preparing the top soil for your table, but also underneath in the arterial veins of underground water flows which finally make it to your lips.

It’s not a simple case of boom or bust. The intricate web of life requires that we consider multiple solutions that protect the environment and address equality while promoting economic vitality and restraining abuse. This sustainable pathway provide a consensual guide for a decision making process that will enable humanity to thrive through what is ahead. Given our planetary odds right now it’s about the best shot we have.

Fiona Sinclair©

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