SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – The oil and gas industry and the watchdog groups following them are in agreement on one issue – getting New Mexico well owners to have their water quality tested.
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said well owners should voluntarily get their water tested before and after any drilling activity, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Monday. But the organization’s reasoning is to prove that drilling won’t have any negative effects on groundwater.
Wally Drangmeister, an association spokesman, said “misinformation and innuendo” have led to the mistaken perception that oil and gas drilling aren’t safe.
“There are many water wells in New Mexico that have issues completely unrelated to oil and gas operations, but people have tried to blame well problems on oil and gas,” Drangmeister said.
Watchdog groups, however, have been pushing for privately-owned wells to get tested so industry stakeholders are held accountable.
Kathleen Dudley, a spokeswoman for Drilling Mora County, an activist group, said residents with wells should be gauging the water quality for their own protection. “If a homeowner does not know the quality of water before any industrial activity occurs, they have no baseline by which they can make industry accountable,” Dudley said.
Policies such as the federal Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Standards Act don’t address oil and gas development, she added.
Thousands of New Mexicans use groundwater from private wells owned by individuals or communities.
Oil and gas producers have set their sights on other areas of the state, leaving some residents worried about potential contamination.
Drangmeister said there is no documented case of contamination caused by the drilling technique of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. The state Oil Conservation Division said it’s also seeing the same result so far.
“The cases of groundwater contamination . are associated with surface impoundments (pits) utilized at well sites. These groundwater contamination cases are not associated with hydraulic fracturing conducted on oil and gas wells in New Mexico,” division spokesman Jim Winchester said.
Still, most well owners don’t test for the chemicals associated with oil and gas before wells are drilled. Proponents of drilling believe it would be more challenging to prove changes in water quality after a well starts producing oil and gas activity.
Drilling Mora County has paid for baseline testing on 14 wells in 2010 and four in 2013 in San Miguel County using grants and donations. Dudley said owners should get wells tested through independent labs, even if they have to pay for it themselves.
“If we truly want to be empowered and truly make a difference, we must take full responsibility and not put testing in the hands of industry or state government,” Dudley said.
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican
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