Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dr. Andrew Feldman presents on the Las Vegas Basin

Drilling Mora County Educational Meeting January 14th 2010

Ronald Broadhead's Report of the Las Vegas Basin according to Dr. Andrew Feldman, geologist, Las Vegas City Councilman, and Luna Community Professor, states that estimates of natural gas reserves in the Las Vegas Basin show less that 1% TOC (Total Organic Carbon) with max of 3.95% TOC, but an average of less than 1% TOC in most areas--resulting in approximately 3 days of natural gas for the nation (Valle Vidal was estimated at 6 days). The Raton Basin, according to Broadhead's Report, is approximately 10% TOC.

Feldman presented on the Geology of the Las Vegas Basin: Gas Drilling and Potential Impacts to
The Environment, January 14th, at Drilling Mora County's educational forum (2nd Thursday of each month).

The Broadhead Report, paid for by industry and NM State Land Office, is being used by Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons to attract natural gas lease sales in the Las Vegas and Tucumcari Basins.
13,000 acres of pristine Mora County lands from Ocate to Wagon Mound were leased in September 2008, and the current White Peak land swap could put more state trust land on the leasing block for natural gas development--once checker-boarded state lands are now interconnected, making drilling feasible.

Feldman indicated that the shale and sandstone formations in the LV Basin and the basin's syncline shape would make natural gas recovery very difficult aside from the small amount of reserve according to the Broadhead report. Additionally, the porosity of the stone allows the gasses to escape, therefore aquifer contamination, would be inevitable..."It will just be a matter of time." said Feldman.

Feldman also stated that there is not enough water in the Las Vegas Basin to support the intensive hydraulic fracturing process used to extract the methane trapped in the rock formations. Where will that water come come from? There are a number of possibilities Feldman said: effluent water from the Las Vegas Treatment plant, but 25% would have to be treated and trucked back to the river; brine water from the deep Pennsylvania rock formation which is calcium sulphate and destructive to the land and aquifers; or purchase water rights.

What most folks do not realize is that all the mineral leases on file in the Mora County Clerk's office as of November 2009 have water rights signed away along with their mineral rights. This could put landowners in a difficult position if their water runs dry on their land due to the hydraulic fracturing process.

Each hydraulic fracturing process uses upwards of 3 million gallons of water. (5,000 gallons of toxic chemicals are added to each 1 million gallons of water used). One gas well can be fraced numerous times (some experts say upwards of 17 times). Radio-active sand, benzene (known human carcinogen), toluene (teratagen), xylene, and ethlybenzene are among some of the proprietary mix of chemicals industry uses in their fracing fluids--all of which cause illness and some death in our human and animal populations. Industry contends that the hydraulic fracturing process and their proprietary chemical mix are safe.

Due to the 2005 Energy Bill, industry is exempt from the Clean Water Act which allows the oil and gas industry to pollute without accountability. In fact, even if they are found to have contaminated the water, this bill exempts them from all liability. This is known as the Halliburton Loophole, passed during the Bush and Cheney administration.

With little to extract and insufficient amounts of water to support natural gas extraction in the Las Vegas Basin, then why would Royal Dutch Shell be holding mineral leases in Mora and San Miguel Counties? That is what we must ponder as we look to Gillette, Wyoming; Dish, Texas; Rifle, Colorado; and some of the eastern states of Pennsylvania and New York where people are living with air and water contamination that increases daily. Asthma rates in Dish are twice the national average, cancer rates in San Juan County are the highest in the State of New Mexico. Benzene, found in water wells of Gillette, have shut the water supplies down. The state currently trucks in bottled water for the residents. Workers in the natural gas fields report bottled water prices higher than gasoline at the pumps.

According to Feldman the “short term pay off vs. long term damage might just not be worth the impacts not just on our land, but our neighbour’s land as well." The financial gain for Mora and San Miguel citizens vs. the damage to the water and environment will be the key each citizen must weigh as our nation pushes for greater development to support this natural gas-extraction frenzy.

Dr. Feldman advocated a ban on natural gas drilling due to the developer's methods combined with the geology of the Las Vegas Basin. "We need to decide what we want," he said. It was clear from those attending Feldman's presentation that they understood full well what was at stake.

Sufficient, safe, renewable energy alternatives have yet to be brought to the table in the United States. Obvious solutions are sustainable,local, small-scale green development: solar, hydro-electric, wind, agricultural production, algae farms--an entirely sustainable model. And of course, cutting public consumption of energy. This, however could throw our local, state, federal and world governments into a tail spin. They have built their operations on the taxes generated from this fossil fuel industry. It is proving difficult for them to shift gears towards local and sustainable. That is where the people's voice and actions will make the difference. And from there, reason prevail.

Mora County is moving toward a sustainable model with certified organic programs, farmers market, and existing flour mills with hydro-electric capacity. Once the bread basket of New Mexico, Mora County has the agricultural land, water and know-how to expand this model. Tapetes de Lana, a spinning mill and weaving facility, can become a major producer of wool insulation, wool spinning and revenue-generator for the county with nearly every landowner raising sheep for its use.

It is all in our vision of what we see for our counties: our vision of the country, and our vision of our world. It is the individual, collectively working along side other individuals within our communities, that make will make the difference and create the vision for a sustainable future.