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NM Oil, Gas Lease Opportunities are in Water-Stressed Areas

Water stress in New Mexico is on par with the United Arab Emirates, the 10th most water-stressed country in the world, according to the World Resources Institute. (worldresourcesinstitute.org)
Water stress in New Mexico is on par with the United Arab Emirates, the 10th most water-stressed country in the world, according to the World Resources Institute. (worldresourcesinstitute.org)
November 22, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Pressures on water availability are higher in New Mexico than any other state, according to the World Resources Institute. Nonetheless, a new study shows more than 95% of the state's oil and gas leases offered by the Trump administration are in water-stressed areas.

The Center for American Progress found 387 of 402 leases offered by the Bureau of Land Management are located in "extremely high" water-stress areas.

Jenny Rowland-Shea – senior policy analyst for public lands at the center – prepared the analysis, and cites a U.S. court ruling in May against the BLM for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development on water in northern New Mexico.

"So, without a shift in policy, the BLM will continue to lease in highly-stressed water basins, where additional water demand may impact farmers, ranchers and surrounding communities," says Rowland-Shea.

Water stress is different than drought. Rowland-Shea explains that when people use water at a faster rate than it's replaced, shortages are possible if a drought occurs, or even in a prolonged dry spell.

She notes the land leases haven't necessarily been purchased, but are located in areas the BLM has determined to be acceptable for energy development.

The World Resources Institute says industries and cities in New Mexico already use about 95% of the state's available annual water supply, which reduces reserves for droughts and dry spells.

Rowland-Shea says the amount of water used by the oil and gas industry hasn't received significant study, but fracking a single well can require up to 2.6 million gallons.

"Information relating to the amount of water that energy development uses is severely lacking in total numbers and on project-specific levels," says Rowland-Shea. “And then, there's actually no standard reporting requirement for energy companies on water."

The survey of six Western states shows Nevada and Wyoming rank second and third for numbers of leases in water-stressed areas. Other states studied were Colorado, Utah and Montana.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM