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NM officials press for setbacks amid pushback from oil and gas industry / Public News Service

New Mexico members of the group Elected Officials to Protect America are renewing their call for rules regulating how close fossil fuel companies can operate near schools and other public places after legislation failed to pass earlier this year.

Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said industrial oil and gas wells are operating just feet from homes, schools and hospitals, increasing community health risks from well-known toxins.

“Some here in New Mexico have been devastated because of types of energy incentives that have affected their land, their culture, their way of life and have taken away their lives,” Lujan asserted.

Instead of passing buffer-zone legislation this year, the Legislature directed a state agency to study the risks to the environment and human health of being close to oil and gas facilities. California passed legislation to ban wells within 3,200 feet of schools but it is on hold pending the November election when the industry hopes voters will overturn it.

Rep. Debbie Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, is one of 18 state lawmakers who are members of the Elected Officials group. While recognizing revenues from extraction greatly benefit the state, she said there is no reason adults and children should be getting sick from the byproducts.

“We know that living near oil and gas wells increases the risk of cancer, asthma and upper respiratory problems,” Sariñana pointed out. “There are over 32,000 children attending schools within a mile of an oil and gas extraction site.”

Stephanie Garcia Richard, commissioner of public lands, is leading an effort to hold the industry accountable for the state’s 1,700 abandoned wells. The unplugged wells are located on state and privately owned land with still more on federal and tribal lands.

“If those oil and gas wells needed to be properly plugged, we put the onus on the oil and gas industry to plug those wells properly on their own dimes,” Richard stressed. “Because those abandoned and orphaned gas wells are sometimes the worst offenders of emissions out in the oil field.”

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