In the late 1980’s, community residents in Northwest New Mexico noticed
strong menacing odors reported as smelling like rotten eggs, petroleum
and sewage around the ever expanding oil and gas industry. Residents
experienced nose, throat and eye irritation that occasionally would last
for hours after smelling the odors. When the odors increased in
frequency, so did the associated acute health effects.
energy companies in the area (including BP, Energen, XTO, Devon, Conoco
Phillips, Enterprise, Williams and Questar) have moved away from oil
drilling in favor of drilling for natural gas and even fracking at some
sites. The entire community of Northwest NM consists of over 100,000
residents all affected, either by living near gas well or near the power
plants that process the natural gas.
are gas wells near every school, church and community center. With the
switch, from drilling for oil in favor of fracking or drilling for
natural gas, came more severe and more frequent odor incidents causing
health effects for the community. One of the members of the San Juan
Citizens Alliance and long-term resident, Sug McNall, went out to get
her mail in December 2009. She was immediately struck with an extremely
potent rotten egg odor and overcome with dizziness and nausea.
According to McNall, she fell to the ground and was forced to crawl
back into the house. While the symptoms began to slowly subside, she
reported numbness in her lips that for lasted three days after the
less severe odor incidents, residents commonly reported headaches,
nausea and dizziness in addition to the nose, throat and eye irritation.
The health effects and reported odors could be associated with
chemical presence and chemical exposure. Sug McNall and other residents
have documented odors most frequently in the late evening through the
early morning hours. This could be related to the industrial process
and/or weather patterns.
community members call in frequently, often multiple times a week, to
the New Mexico Oil and Gas Conservation Division to report these odors.
However no satisfactory solutions have been reached. On occasion, a
representative of the Conservation Division will conduct an on-site
investigation. During one of the occasions, the representative informed
the residents the most likely cause of the odors is “treated” Hydrogen
Sulfide. This is a major concern as Hydrogen Sulfide is highly toxic
and while its presence requires formal signage by law, none was present
at the well.
homeowners were never informed of the toxic risk located on their
property. Members of San Juan Citizens Alliance and other residents of
the San Juan Basin, have also complained to The Aztec City Manager and
City Commissioner, and no satisfactory response was issued.
of the residents have lived there for their entire lives; some can even
trace their ancestry back to the original land owners from The Old
West. Many are ranchers, maybe running one of the small businesses in
town with their family.
Hear first hand the fight against natural gas in New Mexico!