Like many poor rural areas of the west, New Mexico faces a grab for its resources. Driven by the rising cost of fuel this trend is now focused on drilling for oil and gas, which means the degradation of some of the most pristine areas of our state.
How oil and gas reserves are divided appears arbitrary on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find NIMBYism alongside backroom deals and government complicity with industry. Here in New Mexico urbanites get to hear the gasps of exasperated Santa Fe folk fighting off the rigs, but what about the voices that cannot be heard? The voices of those who live further on the margins in the poverty stricken rural areas that make up the resource rich West, where the bulk of resource degradation takes place.
In New Mexico, much like rural Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and other Western states poverty sculpts the landscape. Here the lure of a quick profit at the expense of the environment is facilitated by corrupt officials, public land lease sales, and efforts to buy subsurface rights before the owner realizes they’ve sold the family ranch down the line for pennies on the dollar. Who needs the dead and gone Bush administration when we have the market driven multitudes sucking resources out of some of our most pristine lands?
Out West we have the horizon and the landscape. And out West we have a moral obligation to steward the land against the threats of those whose lifestyles and actions father afield have negative repercussions for those who live in the places decimated by rigs, flares, trucks, pipelines, spills and waste ponds. Those who have to drink from aquifers polluted with fracing fluids, solvents, chemicals and heavy metals have a right to inform those that freely consume resources beneath our homes, that their actions have detrimental effects beyond their wildest belief.
If we are to shape a sustainable future we need to think locally and globally yes, but we also need to think about our own backyards, and how far they extend. Which means thinking about where we get our resources while considering the trail of waste created in our wake. But why stop at the polluting processes of resource extraction when it is also apparent that all waste has to end up somewhere. Like the daily shipments of dried human excrement that locals here fought against. That would have been human poop trucked from the overfull sewage systems of Los Angeles to bury beneath our mesa’s.
The current drive for oil and gas exploration in the West started under the Bush administration and stems from two consecutive actions facilitated by Dick Cheney. The little known 2001 Executive Order, ‘Actions to Expedite Energy Related Projects’ accelerated the issue of permits, and a 2001 BLM Leasing Instruction Memo modified Federal land use policy in favor of oil and gas production. These actions stripped over 50 million acres of land in the West of wildlife, wilderness, and environmental protections, thereby opening the door to an explosion of oil and gas development in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.
In just seven years vast swaths of West lands have been decimated beyond repair. In the Wyoming Powder River Basin where Coalbed Methane [CBM] extraction is on a rampage, the aquifer has dropped 200 feet since 2003, while the toxicity of the soil has increased exponentially creating a host of ecological problems.
Coalbed Methane sits atop oil shale throughout the Rocky Mountain region. CBM is globally touted as a carbon neutral climate change gas and thus the resource of choice for developed and developing nations, including the U.S. under the Obama administration. Unfortunately when extracted it sucks water out of the ground at a rate of 10 gallons per minute and then dumps it on the surface as pollution. The new not-so-brilliant environmental remediation to justify such action is now focused on enforcing pit liners to contain the pollution so that it presumably evaporates into the air, else seeps into the ground with the breakdown of the liner. Either way it’s a lose lose situation for people and their land base. Never mind that the West is primarily water scarce, receiving much of its recharge from dwindling snow pack.
Last time I checked we were in the midst of the sixth greatest extinction with human caused carbon levels rising to unprecedented levels. Never worry, for as global sea levels rise, forest fires rage, riverbanks swell, glaciers and loggerhead turtles disappear, someone will be driving to the bank to deposit a big fat check at the expense of our ecological land base so the economy, which got us into this pickle in the first place, doesn’t implode. Buy bye world.
Moving through the big city scape is a disconnected moment of human design that blindsides us. You see the car in front of you but you can’t see the rig slashing up a neighborhood, you eat and run but you don’t feel the gas flares tearing your eyes, you pace to the beat while gravel plants destroy watersheds, pipe lines fly through cow pastures and the ubiquitous twenty ton truck careens by your homestead.
Today nearly 60 percent of the planet lives in cities and the major provider for these primary points of consumption is the natural world. In New Mexico 93% of the population live in a city, which means only 7% of people in the state have eyes, ears, sense and time to advocate for the trees, the plants, the mountains, deserts, rivers and animals.
We have two choices: We can dig below the land for finite resources such as uranium, copper, coal, oil & gas, utilizing technologies of enormity which disrupt and mostly destroy all life, or we can create plenty on top of our dry yet abundant landscape and redirect ourselves toward a sustainable future. The latter is the voice of reason, which many times profit is deaf to, however in the face of massive ecosystem collapse (18 out of 23 at last count), species die-off, (50,000 per year), pollution (40% of all freshwater on earth) those currently making the decisions in high office would do well to heed the voices of the guardians of the natural world.
It is plainly obvious that the decision-making processes which enable this type of environmental destruction are not considering the scale of the problem. A more sustainable course of action needs to consider the role the Rocky Mountain region can play in an effort to establish sustainable bioregional food, water and renewable energy security, together with socio, economic and political arrangements that ensure free and fair access for all.
Folk living on the frontlines of resource wars are the best advocates for the environment. Because they know their land base, and know it better than those who draw on its resources, they provide a first line of defense against its destruction.
It’s going to take more than frontline defenders to save the planet at this point in our global crisis. Ordinary people-consumers of this world-need to not only take stock of their habits, but also make their voices heard to combat resource destruction and support change which protects the environment for the benefit of all.
From rural enclaves to the urban centers a unified outcry is desperately needed which demands sustainable solutions like clean renewable energy options that negate the destructiveness of oil and gas development, or the use of recycled materials instead of tearing gravel and metals out of our surrounding landscapes. This means not only thinking deeply about consumer behavior, but making changes in our personal lives so we can all come together in a concerted effort to save this rich biodiverse planet, our only known provider and home, currently spinning off into human induced oblivion.
On a fundamental community level the time has now come for people to shape new local economies that foster small scale interchange such as a shared plan for local food production, public transportation and non invasive renewable energy production. Instead of relying on government entities to make these decisions for us, we also need to set an example to others by living what is entirely possible and within our reach.
Remember, all the answers to the current ecological and economic crisis are right in front of us, if only we care to look, if only we care to see. But once you do, I guarantee you’ll never look back.