Opinion: Valencia County Has Opened the Door to Oil & Gas Exploration Again—A High-Risk Venture

Daniella Cressman
"Valencia County commissioners voted 3-2 shortly after midnight Friday to approve a measure that could open the door to local oil and gas exploration, a move that came after nearly seven hours of public comment from dozens of people." —Matthew Narvaiz & Kevin Robinson-Avila

At the end of the controversial hearing, three out of five commissioners voted to approve a new natural resource overlay zone, which will allow "developers to apply for exploratory surface and subsurface mineral development in the county without changing existing zoning on targeted properties," according to Matthew Narvaiz and Keven Robinson-Avila of The Albuquerque Journal. This action was taken despite the outcry from environmentalists outside of the doors.

A few people who believed that drilling would result in more revenue for the state of New Mexico that could benefit schools made their voices heard as well.

Here's the thing: oil is extremely profitable in the short term, but the risks are dangerously high. For instance, many have warned of potential earthquakes, not to mention the additional pollution on a planet that is already suffering from decades of carbon emissions.

In short, the economy is important, but it's pretty costly if we have a bunch of natural disasters to deal with as a result of drilling and gradually continue to lose resources that we rely on to support ourselves and the economy.

Nonetheless, Chairman Michael Candelaria—of the Republican Party—made his thoughts abundantly clear.

"Valencia County Republican Party Chairman Michael Candelaria briefly disrupted the meeting, imploring people to support fossil fuel-based economic growth with a microphone outside the building that loudly resonated throughout the facility." —Matthew Narvaiz & Kevin Robinson-Avila

The complexity of the matter is that a lot of oil revenue has indeed been directed towards worthy causes, including raising teachers' salaries and providing funds for structural improvements in schools, but the problem remains—We have a limited amount of resources and climate change continues to be a major threat: We've already seen the impact of it due to the major fires New Mexicans suffered through this year, and these dangers will only worsen if we keep drilling and polluting without considering the long-term consequences.

If peoples' lives are in danger and the risk of earthquakes is increased, it's arguably more costly to continue drilling than it would be to simply transition to clean energy, although that process will inevitably be a gradual one.

The decision to continue drilling is, indeed, a dangerous one.

Don Phillips, a former oil and gas exploration geologist, is horrified of the impact on the environment and the heightened potential for natural disasters.

"Drilling in the Rio Grande rift underneath Valencia and surrounding counties would be extremely dangerous, potentially damaging the freshwater aquifer that serves the entire mid-Rio Grande corridor. The Albuquerque Basin—an undeveloped zone potentially rich in hydrocarbons—is a highly fractured formation with numerous fault lines...Drilling there would likely disturb those fault lines, turning them into conduits for oil and gas to contaminate the basin's freshwater aquifer, while greatly heightening the risk of earthquakes." —Don Phillips

Arguably, it's more important for communities to have access to clean drinking water than it is to boost the state's economy, although that would depend on who you ask, and what their priorities are.

To make matters worse, there is only a 10% chance that commercially-viable oil and gas deposits will even be found in the area. Of course, many strongly believe that the ends do not justify the means. However, even if you are in the camp of those who genuinely think that it is beneficial for the community to drill in these areas, this is a high-risk, low-reward venture: There is a 90% chance that no oil will be found which could actually be marketed, an entire community's water supply will be affected, and the risk of earthquakes in New Mexico will increase.

In fact, even Harvey E. Yates Jr. himself, the owner of the Albuquerque-based oil and gas firm Jalapeño Corp., has said "There's probably a 90% chance of failure in striking commercially-viable oil and gas deposits in the area."

In a word, this decision is disappointing.

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Canadian-American author writing about local politics, personal finance, & dining in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque, NM

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