Otero Mesa Decision Warrants Moratorium

T or C Herald


By Carlos A. Padilla


Sierra County officials may be considering a June 14 resolution in support of protecting a vital Salt Basin aquifer in our backyard. New Mexico’s largest untapped freshwater aquifer lies beneath the vast wilderness of Otero Mesa.

The reason our elected officials should support a moratorium on drilling for oil and gas is due to that industry’s own track record. Modern day oil and gas development is a malignant process that can—and often does—contaminate precious groundwater located nearby, regardless of what regulations are in place.

Last year, the Oil Conservation Division—a state agency within the New Mexico Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department—issued a report that found approximately 1,800 cases of groundwater contamination due specifically to oil and gas operations.

A 2004 study showed that the BLM’s oil and gas drilling plan for Otero Mesa would jeopardize the Salt Basin aquifer. That conclusion reflected that BLM’s plan “makes no special provisions for protection of ground-water resources” including existing and proposed public water wells.

Allowing oil and gas drilling on Otero Mesa would jeopardize a vast amount of water, which would negatively impact this dry, desert region far into the future.

The volume of groundwater in storage may be substantially greater than the original estimates of 57-million acre-feet of groundwater—or more than 18 trillion gallons of water—which was first estimated by the state’s Regional Water Plan.

To say that further study is needed is a colossal understatement. The only responsible move is to find out how much water exists and how it might benefit southern New Mexico.

New Mexico’s U.S. Senators agree.

“Our water is a most precious resource, and I have always believed it must be thoughtfully studied and protected,” Sen. Pete Domenici recently said. “This bill will give us new insights into our existing resources and allow us to help make decisions on their future use.”

“Ninety percent of New Mexicans rely on groundwater for their drinking water supply,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman. “Increasing demands on this limited resource means it’s critical for us to fully understand our aquifers, and this bill will help us do that.”

The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee recently approved legislation authorizing a broad study of groundwater resources in New Mexico, prompting Sen. Domenici to ask that the Bureau of Land Management delay federal oil and gas activities on Otero Mesa until a water assessment in that region is completed.

The New Mexico Aquifer Assessment Act instructs the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the State, to undertake a groundwater resources study that will shed light on what the nature and extent of water resources are in New Mexico. The bill designates the study area to include the Estancia Basin, Tularosa Basin, Hueco Basin, Middle Rio Grande Basin and the Salt Basin aquifer in the southern New Mexico region that includes Otero Mesa.

The study indicates that there may be additional aquifers in the New Mexico portions of the Salt Basin.

If a moratorium on oil and gas development and leasing is implemented on Otero Mesa’s Salt Basin Aquifer area, hydrologists would be allowed to conduct a thorough water study to better define and quantify the water resource underlying 2,400 square miles of south central New Mexico. The New Mexico State Legislature recently allocated $1 million to help study the Salt Basin.

We can always develop alternate sources of energy, such as renewable energy sources, but there simply is no substitute for water. Groundwater is astronomically more precious to us now and in our future than the insignificant amount of oil or gas that can be produced by drilling Otero Mesa.



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Contact Us

Coalition for Otero Mesa
Phone: (505) 843-8696 | Fax: (505) 843-8697
Email: oteromesa@yahoo.com
Contact us for more information about the Coalition for Otero Mesa, oil & gas development, or the ongoing effort to protect the last wild lands and open spaces in New Mexico.