As a mom raising a family surrounded by oil and gas operations here in New Mexico’s Permian Basin, I know how important strong pollution standards are to communities on the front lines of oil and gas development. That’s why I am troubled by the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine pollution standards that were designed to keep families like mine safe.
To speak out against this assault on our children’s health, I traveled to Dallas in October to urge the Environmental Protection Agency to uphold critical methane pollution standards designed to help clean up our air and make it safe to breathe.
In late August, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed eliminating the direct regulation of methane, a move that would ease pollution restrictions on the oil and gas industry and put communities across the country in danger.
Each year, the oil and gas industry releases 13 million metric tons of methane — an extremely potent greenhouse gas — and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere, undermining our air quality and jeopardizing our health. In addition to being a major contributor to climate change, exposure to oil and gas pollution can lead to a number of serious health complications, including respiratory damage, cancer, birth defects and nervous system damage. Communities near oil and gas operations are at an increased risk of exposure and are more likely to suffer from an illness associated with breathing heavily polluted air.
My family has experienced firsthand the dangers that oil and gas development can thrust upon those living near these facilities. Where we live in Carlsbad, we are surrounded by more than 30 well pads, and our family home is just 300 feet from the nearest flare.
Before the rigs came, I could sit outside and peacefully bird-watch while I waited for my children to come home from school. After the rigs came, I noticed blisters developing around my mouth and nose while I waited outside for my daughter’s school bus, and the birds I had spent afternoons watching glide across my yard had fallen dead out of our trees.
Before the rigs came, my children were active and eager to play outside. Now, my son suffers from severe nosebleeds at least twice a week. When he’s at school in Roswell, away from the flares, his nose clears up, but when he comes home, he bleeds uncontrollably. My husband is suffering from nosebleeds as well. My asthma has become unmanageable, and everyone in my family experiences debilitating headaches.
Before the rigs came, my children were thriving, and we felt safe in our home. Now, we live in fear that protections will be gutted, and that every breath we draw could make us sicker.
As drilling in our area has increased, so, too, has unhealthy ozone pollution. Carlsbad now has the highest monitored levels of this pollution in the state that is directly linked to asthma and hits children and the elderly particularly hard.
We share a responsibility to protect each other and our planet against the devastating impacts of climate change. Administrator Wheeler is undermining this mission by eroding important methane pollution standards designed to protect our planet and our communities.
The administration’s attacks on these safeguards are not only unwarranted, they are immoral. We need EPA to protect our health, not financial interests of the oil and gas industry. And the same goes for our state regulatory agencies.
We need state and federal regulators that work for us and our kids, not for oil and gas.
The EPA, the New Mexico Environment Department and the state’s Oil Conservation Division have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of New Mexico communities and families like mine, who live on the front lines of oil and gas development and depend on strong protections against exposure to dangerous pollutants. The stakes are incredibly high. The EPA must protect our health, God’s creation and our future by keeping methane standards in place and working.
Penny Aucoin is a mother of two living in Carlsbad. Penny is a member of the New Mexico Chapter of Moms Clean Air Force, a community of over 1 million parents united against air and climate pollution to protect our children’s health.