Moratorium a good idea

From the Alamogordo Daily News

EDITORIAL

04/21/2007

Calls for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Otero Mesa are reasonable, given plans to study the extent and quality of the Salt Basin aquifer that sits underneath it.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the state’s Interstate Stream Commission are preparing to begin that study. USGS currently estimates there are 15 million acre feet of water in that aquifer. At present consumption levels, that would last about 156 years.

Natural gas, on the other hand, appears to be in more limited supply on the mesa. Again, no one knows the exact extent of those reserves, but they are not expected to last more than a decade or two. And the amount extracted would barely be sufficient to cover even a few hours’ worth of America’s daily consumption.

Given Otero County’s water woes, it simply makes sense to ensure nothing is done that might jeopardize that water supply. As was pointed out at Thursday evening’s public forum, oil and gas drilling can contaminate groundwater, especially in areas where the soil is similar to that on the mesa.

If the forum was any indication, the moratorium has broad support. At one point, moderator Rick Simpson asked if anyone present was opposed to the idea of a moratorium. One person expressed some reservations, but there was no outright opposition to holding off on drilling.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman has written to Dirk Kempthorne, secretary of the Department of the Interior, urging him to defer any drilling leases until the Salt Basin study is complete.

We are adding our voice as well. Let the study be completed before any decisions on drilling are taken. The water under the mesa is more valuable and more abundant than the natural gas. We shouldn’t sacrifice long-term growth potential for short-term energy gains.

This paper has argued that Alamogordo needs to give greater consideration to desalination technology, and begin to pursue using the water that sits under both the mesa and the Tularosa Basin. Already, a Colorado company is looking at tapping into the Salt Basin to supply water to El Paso.

If the city waits too long, it will find itself at the end of the queue. So in addition to imposing a moratorium on gas drilling, the city needs to get serious about ways to utilize that water. The city’s growth potential depends on securing more water supplies.

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