New Mexico bans oil and gas leasing near schools due to pollution concerns

A major oil-producing state in the U.S. has implemented a temporary ban on new drilling activities within one mile of schools on state trust land amid pollution concerns.
  • Residents in the northwestern and southeast parts of New Mexico, as well as environmentalists, have filed a suit against the state alleging that it failed to prevent pollution from oil and gas production.
  • According to the lawsuit, approximately 144,000 people including children attending daycares and schools live within a radius of a half mile from oil and gas operations.
  • Stephanie Garcia Richard, New Mexico’s Land Commissioner, issued an executive order that prohibits new oil and natural gas leases in a distance of one mile from schools or other educational institutions.

Samuel Sage has been receiving complaints from Navajo residents for many years about the vibrations and noise that shake their homes.

He tells him of the dust that is kicked up from heavy trucks that travel the dirt roads around the Navajo Community of Counselor, located in the northwestern New Mexico.

Sage stood on the hill of a school in Counselor, one day. He pointed out tanks and wells in the distance that were painted green in order to blend with juniper and sagebrush.

He said that, depending on the direction of the wind, the monitoring showed pollution either heading toward the school across from the highway or towards the chapter.

Sage, the former Navajo Chapter Counselor president and current Community Services Coordinator, is one of a group residents and environmentalists that have sued New Mexico, claiming it failed to prevent pollution from northwestern and southeastern areas of the state.

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According to the lawsuit, approximately 144,000 people, or 7% of state residents, live within a mile of an oil and natural gas production site.

The New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard released an executive order on Thursday that included a ban on new oil and natural gas leases within one mile of educational institutions or schools, such as daycare centers, preschools, and sports facilities used by students.

The order that takes effect on Thursday also requires her office, which is responsible for thousands of square kilometers of surface lands, mineral rights, and oil and gas leases within one mile of state schools, to review existing leases and assess their compliance with state regulations.

Garcia Richard, when asked Thursday about the review process, said: “We have a long list of things that we need to complete.” It’s a lot to do, and we have to prioritize.

State Land Office estimates that there are 120 schools within a mile of oil and natural gas operations on federal and state lands, as well as Tribal and privately owned lands.

New Mexico has implemented a moratorium on oil and gas drilling near schools due to pollution concerns.

A report by the Associated Press analyzed Oil Conservation Division and State Land Office information for new and active applications for drilling permits. Nearly 100 wells were found within a mile from at least one school. This is out of over 13,000 oil and gas leases that are active or new on state trust land.

According to an analysis, the Hobbs School district has the highest concentration of oil and gas wells near school buildings.

Hobbs lies in the Permian Basin – one of the world’s most prolific oil fields. The state has spent record amounts for education and social programs.

Gene Strickland, Superintendent of Hobbs District, said that his district supports the industrial sector.

He said: “We don’t feel that the oil and gas industry harms the district because of the proximity of wells in the area.” “The industry is composed of individuals that are members of our local community.” We all share the same concerns and want to ensure that the community in which we live is not negatively affected.

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According to an AP analysis, there are 45 oil wells within a mile of Jefferson Primary School located on the west side Hobbs. These wells have active permits and applications to drill on state trust lands. Heizer Middle School, located on the south side Hobbs, has 13 wells. These numbers rise when oil and natural gas wells located outside of state trust land is included.

According to state data, Lybrook Elementary near Counselor, has 11 oil wells active within a one-mile radius on state trust land.

Felix Garcia, Superintendent of the Jemez Mountain Public Schools said that the district chose to move the Lybrook School years ago because the old campus was located near a gas processing plant and there were safety concerns.

Garcia stated, “It’s great that people are raising concerns. Often times no one looks into the issue and you end up with health problems in the community.”

The Western Energy Alliance, along with other industry groups, have claimed that producers are working closely with regulators and researchers at universities to develop drone and satellite technology that allows leaks to be detected more quickly and repaired. This results in emissions reductions even though production has increased.


Environmentalists claim that pollution can be reduced by installing equipment or setting back setbacks. New Mexico does not have setbacks, even though it has adopted rules to reduce methane and other pollutants from industry.

The state did not disclose how much revenue it would lose by creating new buffer zones around schools. The revenue generated by the development of state trust land is used to fund public schools, hospitals, universities and other projects. State Land Office reported in November that it had processed over $300 million of oil and gas royalties during October. This was a record month for the agency. The last fiscal year’s revenues topped $2.4 billion, a new record.

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