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Mapping NM Children's Health in Shadow of Oil, Gas Drilling

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Environmental watchdogs say about 32,000 New Mexico children attend schools and daycare centers within a half-mile of oil and gas production facilities. (fracktracker.org)
Environmental watchdogs say about 32,000 New Mexico children attend schools and daycare centers within a half-mile of oil and gas production facilities. (fracktracker.org)
 By Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM - Producer, Contact
October 20, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As the Environmental Protection Agency backs away from limiting toxic emissions from oil and gas wells, environmental groups are stepping up calls to limit the pollution.

The groups Earthworks and Moms Clean Air Force have released an updated version of their interactive Oil and Gas Threat Map. It identifies areas at risk from emissions from oil and gas production.

Alexandra Merlino with Moms Clean Air Force says New Mexico is vulnerable without federal laws governing oil and gas because the state lacks guidelines for determining what constitutes a significant violation.

"In New Mexico, because we have no state regulations around oil and gas, we depend on national regulations - that's like our health check," she says.

Merlino points out that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is working to roll back Obama-era rules that reduce methane emissions, though the effort is currently tied up in the courts. The map reveals potential danger to schools and childcare centers near rigs that can emit methane, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants.

According to the map, more than 32,000 children in New Mexico attend schools and daycare centers located near oil and gas production facilities. These sites release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as well as smog-forming and cancer-causing pollution, like benzene. Merlino says this puts kids at risk for cancer, respiratory illness, birth defects, blood disorders and neurological problems.

"So, it's not only the direct threat of this oil and gas pollution, and then there's the secondary impact of climate destruction from this pollution that then creates other issues that are health risks to young children," she warns.

New Mexico has two major oil and production areas where children might be exposed to risk - the San Juan Basin and the Permian Basin. A study by the Fracktracker Alliance in 2014 found that hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas drilling in the U.S. unfairly burden Hispanic and non-white communities.

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