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New Mexico lawmakers seek more data on limiting drilling near homes and schools

oil rig against moody sunset sky in new Mexico, USA
Getty Images
oil rig against moody sunset sky in new Mexico, USA

In the last legislative session, no reforms were made to oil and gas regulations despite bills to impose fines for oil spills, limit fresh water use and create buffers around schools. Looking forward to next year's session, the Legislative Finance Committee met in oil-rich southeastern New Mexico Tuesday to discuss reintroducing one of those failed proposals — setbacks for wells.

Setbacks would prohibit oil and gas drilling within a certain distance of homes, highways, schools and surface waters.

Republican Senator William Sharer questioned the effectiveness of such a buffer, arguing more data is needed.

“If we're going to setback, how far do you have to set it back for it to make an actual difference? 100 yards, 100 miles, 1000 miles?” he said.

Republican Representative Cathrynn Brown echoed those concerns, she said the committee needed more information about the health impacts of emissions before moving forward.

“I think we all want to live healthy. There’s no debate about that. But what I see here is a true lack of science,” she said.

Democratic Senator George Muñoz, chair of the interim committee, criticized the state Environment Department for not attending the meeting to share its expertise with the panel. While the department was absent due to scheduling conflicts, according to Muñoz, he said the committee could use its subpoena power to compel it to testify in the future.

“If we need to get to the truth and really need to resolve some issues, we'll get there,” he said.

Reached for comment, spokesperson for the Environment Department Jorge Estrada declined to comment on what was said in the meeting since department officials weren’t there. He added that, although the agency regulates oil and gas emissions, it does not have authority to establish or enforce setbacks.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation.

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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