Why bother?
Drilling little pockets of oil is more trouble than it will be worth

As oil and natural gas become increasingly hard to find, as supplies slowly wither and prices skyrocket, small pockets of those fossil fuels around suburban areas - and precious water supplies - will attract both exploration and bitter conflicts.

And all, basically, for very small quantities of oil and gas that do little to stem our energy crisis but are still worth a small fortune to a few.

We've seen such strife over proposed natural gas exploration in the Valle Vidal. A tremendous battle is raging over oil drilling in Otero Mesa, with its vast water resources. And now residents of the Galisteo Basin, which contains probably the greatest unexcavated archaeological treasury in the United States, with some 24 major Puebloan ruins, are inflamed over the prospects of oil and gas exploration.

Best estimates show only 100 million barrels of oil, and between 5 triillion and 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, in the Galisteo Basin. Those seem like huge numbers. And they are, but only in the sense of profits to be made. They are a drop in the bucket of what Americans use.

America's daily oil consumption in 2005 was just over 20 million barrels, according to the federal Energy Information Agency. So the Galisteo Basin will produce something less than five days of oil - five days of gigantic profits, in exchange for years of financial suffering and environmental damage for area residents.

As for natural gas in the Galisteo Basin, in 2004, the Energy Information Agency reports Americans used 22.4 trillion cubic feet of it. With 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the Galisteo Basin would produce slightly less than a three-month supply.

Since 2004, oil and gas tax revenue has accounted for a third of New Mexico's annual state budget. Powerful, heavily subsidized and beyond meaningful regulation, the industry gets what it wants. And what it wants is more money at other people's expense.

What that has meant is not only huge revenues, but around 50,000 working oil and gas wells in the state, with all their debris, bulldozed roads, toxic-waste pits and air pollution. There must be many thousands of abandoned wells, and who knows how many more are in the planning stage?

Squeezing every last drop out of New Mexico's reserves is not the way for our economy to flourish in the long run.

We use too much oil, and we're profligate with natural gas. We need to embrace a new growth-economy based on conservation, green building, infill development, recycling, mass transit, local agriculture and new fuel-efficient technologies.

If brainy folks can dream up excuses for using the most dangerous and complicated technology in the world - nuclear power - to boil water, why can't we figure out a way to fill the state's coffers with the one natural resource - sunlight - that we have in endless supply?

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
November 10, 2007