A High Price To Pay – Impacts of Oil & Gas Development to Real People
Through no fault of their own, many Americans find themselves living next to oil and gas development. Pipelines crisscross their land, hazardous fluids spill across the landscape, and gas compressors roar through the night. These American families bear a special burden in meeting America’s energy demands. Read these stories to gauge the consequences of oil and gas production, and the changes needed to strike a balance between energy development and protecting American families and their property.
Linn & Tweeti Blancett
We are sixth generation ranchers in northern New Mexico’s San Juan Basin and we hope our grandkids will be the eighth generation. We’ve been ranching this land near Aztec for over 100 years. We battle droughts, winter weather, and fluctuating cattle prices. However, unlike many western cattle ranchers, we also contend with the everyday, detrimental impacts of the Basin’s oil and gas industry.
Our ranch is a mixture of public and private land. We are overrun by more than 500 active gas wells. Each well pad and access road gobbles up about 3 acres of grazing land.
Gas gathering and distribution pipelines transect our property everywhere. Pipelines are not reseeded, roads are built too wide without adequate drainage, and surface spills are not cleaned up. Cheat grass and thistle sprouts all over the pipeline scars, making the ground unusable for grazing.
Access roads are usually poorly constructed, with steep grades and improper drainage. Sporadic maintenance results in roads with cavernous ruts that make them almost impassable even to 4-wheel drive vehicles. When the access roads are muddy, industry service rigs and trucks often drive on the adjacent pasture land which is drier and offers better traction.
At the well pads, the waste pits and compressors are unfenced or so poorly fenced that cattle and wildlife can drink from the pits and drip pans. Uncovered drip pans hold ethylene glycol (antifreeze) and water, a sweet tasting beverage that kills livestock and wildlife that drink from it.
We lose several cows a year due to these hazards. Since well operators are reluctant to pay for livestock losses and require proof that the animal was killed as a result of their operations, we must have each animal autopsied and examined for hydrocarbon residues and cause of death. That doesn’t even count all the fees for lawyers and other experts we pay to collect damages from the oil companies.
Roy and Louise Dearing
We bought the place about twenty years ago. We were in the desert with mountains nearby and the Black River across the road. We thought it was a great place to raise a family, where our four boys could hunt, explore, and just be boys.
There was always a small compressor there, about 500 feet from the house, but when Duke Energy bought the land a few years ago, they replaced that little 100 horsepower compressor with one that has 1200 horsepower. If it doesn’t breakdown it runs twenty-four hours a day, everyday. Until just a short time ago, they had four floodlights on all night. It’s like living next door to an airport.
The thing is so big it shakes the house. You can feel it under your feet. We used to like to sit out on the front porch, but we can’t do that now. We used to have friends come out and camp on the weekends, but they don’t come around anymore.
It makes me so mad. Neither of us can sleep well anymore, and I’ve been so rattled, I have to go to the doctor because I now have high blood pressure. Duke Energy won’t do anything about it. They have land they could move it to, land more isolated, but they won’t do it.
We had to hire lawyer. It’s so expensive it’s taking up our retirement, but we’re going to fight it. We’ll probably die broke, with nothing left for our kids, but we’re not going to stop fighting. We just can’t.
My family has been ranching in northwest New Mexico since 1922. We run cows on our ranch and on surrounding public lands managed by the BLM’s Farmington Field Office. We have problems all the time with oil company workers leaving gates open, driving across our pastures, and generally causing erosion and other problems.
I have complained repeatedly to BLM about a shallow pit filled with “black gunk” near a gas well operated by Williams. The pit was on my grazing lease and I found cattle tracks to the pit and feared animals might be drinking the oily water. I’ve found dead cows near oil pits before, and seen lots of dead birds and other wildlife floating in the oil pits so I was worried this cow would drink out of the pit and die too. I lose eight to ten cows each year because of the oil field activity.
Each oil company always claims the problems are caused by some other company. There are so many companies running around doing different stuff out there that they all point their fingers at each other. I just want them to take responsibility for their actions, clean up after themselves, and be good stewards that respect people like my family who has been making a living off this land for 80 years.
I was born and raised on a farm located on the Animas River. I remember as a child having clean water in our well. In the ’50s, oil and gas began drilling up and down the Animas River corridor.
After graduating in 1965, I spent three years in the military in electronics. I will always remember while here on visits, my mother standing at the sink trying to drink the stinking water coming from our well in the late 1960s. She passed away in 1974 at 64 years old. I believe poorly cemented gas wells played a role in her early death.
Upon returning home in 1979, my wife and I began to notice there was a tremendous amount of cancer in the families who lived in my neighborhood. Upon investigation, we found poorly cemented wells, open pit dumping, and methane gas in 40% of the water wells tested.
We found the industry to be inconsiderate, reckless and unsympathetic to the families in the area. It seemed that the government was letting the industry pretty well call the shots. That’s when we started the Clean Water Coalition to deal with impacts of oil and gas development.
All of this happened before the coal-seam gas development. Now, compressors run night and day. Their constant roar interrupts sleeping and dinner. The companies could muffle the sound if they want, but they never agree to spend the little extra money it would take to make people’s lives easier.
I’ve lived in the Carlsbad area all my life. A few years ago, my wife and I decided to build our own house right outside of town. We had a lot just north of the city limits, across the river, and we built a nice new place there out of adobe.
The problem was that nearby was another lot that they didn’t use to build a house, but to drill a well. I’ve learned that the only restriction they have is to be 500 feet away from an existing structure. We’re lucky, I guess. In Colorado it¹s only 250 feet away from the nearest house.
The initial drilling was the worst because we could actually feel it. Maybe it was because the house was adobe and the vibration traveled through rock and up to the house. We could distinctly feel the rotation of the motor and we would lay in bed at night and feel the vibrations rattle through our new home.
Now we have to live with the constant drone of the pump-jack, and the eyesore of seeing that thing so close to our house. I can’t imagine what it has done to our property value.
Can we make a difference? I don’t know. It seems like they always win. It’s hard to fight the big money boys.