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Fri Feb 19, 2021, 05:45 AM

Will New Mexico learn from coal's decline?

Satellite images of the land outside Artesia, New Mexico, show an arid brown landscape pockmarked with dots. Zoom in a bit, and a semiregular grid pattern appears, which could be mistaken for a suburban development. Zoom once more and the truth becomes clear: oil drilling sites, thousands of them. Each of these wells will one day need to be cleaned up: the borehole plugged and the land restored. When abandoned, wells like these will leak methane and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years.

More than 1,500 miles east and north of Artesia, among rolling hills of Appalachia, there are streams tinged orange by acid mine drainage and mountaintops flattened by companies seeking the hard, black coal seams underneath. Many of these companies are now bankrupt, or shadows of their former selves, while the industry’s legacy persists in billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

Petroleum replaced coal as America’s fuel of choice and, in coal’s decline, oil and gas may catch a glimpse of its own future.

Beginning last year, the pandemic buffeted New Mexico’s oil and gas drillers. After the pandemic tanked global oil demand, drillers and oilfield service companies went bankrupt, thousands of workers lost their jobs, and the industry’s aggregate debt approached record levels. A significant chunk of New Mexico’s annual revenue – often ranging from 15% to 25%, according to the state, and reaching 34% in 2020 – depends on drilling dollars, while the prospective cleanup costs are monumental. This bind is not new or unique. In fact, New Mexico only has to look at the coal industry’s decline – and what that decline meant for mining dependent states – to see what happens when a fossil fuel industry goes under.

Read more: https://www.hcn.org/articles/energy-industry-will-new-mexico-learn-from-coals-decline
(High Country News)

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