A broad range of public interest advocates today applaud New Mexico Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart and Sen. Brenda McKenna for introducing SM 8, requesting the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department to study the risks to humans and the environment from proximity to oil and gas facilities (fact sheet here). The memorial asks the department to evaluate how to mitigate those risks by requiring oil and gas companies to locate new wells beyond a minimum distance (“setbacks”) from homes, schools, businesses and the surrounding environment and to recommend legislation addressing setbacks in the 2025 long legislative session.

Public interest groups were disappointed by the removal of setback provisions from HB 133 at the behest of oil and gas interests more concerned with profits than improving public health. In public comments before the legislature on HB 133, speaker after speaker lamented the removal of setbacks from the bill, emphasizing the importance of having space between polluting oil and gas infrastructure and homes, schools, hospitals, water resources, and other environmentally sensitive areas.

“Every day, southeast New Mexicans see and feel the impacts of our state leadership choosing to put profits over people. Setbacks aren’t simply an issue that is out of sight out of mind for us when the legislative session ends, like they seem to be for many state leaders,” said Kayley Shoup, community organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future. “Thirty-four thousand children in New Mexico go to schools surrounded by oil and gas facilities. When those children grow up and leave our education system, they not only leave with an education but also with health problems such as asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, reproductive issues, increased risk for chronic disease, and sometimes even cancer. It’s clear that the majority of the state can quite callously ignore that reality if they live in an area where their child doesn’t have to sacrifice their health for their education and the education of others. It’s time leaders make robust setbacks a priority as oil production in the Permian continues to soar and more people are put at risk. We need leaders that actually live by the beliefs they claim to espouse.”

“We advocated for strong setbacks this year, and they were weakened. We advocated for keeping reduced setbacks in HB 133 as a step forward, and they were removed. Communities near oil and gas operations risk exposure to hazardous pollutants, and frontline communities and our most vulnerable—children and the elderly—are especially at risk,” said Tannis Fox, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The state needs to stand up for its people and not let oil and gas companies build health-harming infrastructure right outside our homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.”

“Earthworks strongly supports updating the Oil and Gas Act to include setbacks to protect New Mexico’s people, sensitive wildlife habitat and water resources, and the environment,” said Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson of Earthworks. “Oil and gas facilities are toxic, health-hazardous industrial facilities that are known to cause severe health issues, both acute and chronic, ranging from headaches and nosebleeds to increased risks of serious cancers. Our field advocates have filmed pollution from these facilities across the state, and no one should be forced to live with an oil well in their backyard or in their school’s playground. The state needs to put people over polluters, and keep these toxic, polluting facilities away from where we live, work, learn, and recreate.”

“People of faith and many faith leaders in New Mexico are very concerned for the health of communities, elders, children, those to be born, and our sacred creation around oil and gas facilities,” said Sr. Joan Brown, osf, executive director of New Mexico & El Paso Interfaith Power and Light. “We have an ethical responsibility to care for the common good and our neighbors. New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light works with faith leaders and communities in the Permian Basin and many express concerns and share stories of health impacts. Society is measured by how it cares for children and elders. We pray and work for protections.”

“As New Mexico is the second largest oil-producing state in the nation, we must do all we can to protect our communities from dangerous pollutants,” said Demis Foster, CVNM chief executive officer. “Ample research has shown that pollution from the oil and gas industry causes cancers, respiratory illness, and more. Enacting setbacks that create a buffer zone is a common-sense next step that will ensure our most vulnerable populations, especially children and the elderly, are protected from direct and harmful exposure to toxins. Additionally, setbacks must be in place to protect our watersheds, threatened and endangered wildlife, and fragile ecosystems from development and industrial pollution harm. We urge the legislature to pass Senate Memorial 8 so essential studies to establish setback distances can be conducted.”

“As we know, water is life,” said Amigos Bravos Deputy Director Rachel Conn. “In 2023 the Sackett v EPA  U.S. Supreme Court decision stripped federal Clean Water Act protections from the vast majority of New Mexico’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. Like other Western states, a large portion of New Mexico’s waters, those which lose protections under the decision, run seasonally or only in response to rainfall or are wetlands not connected to larger water bodies. The health of these smaller streams determines what happens in our larger rivers that provide drinking water, irrigate our fields, and provide recreational opportunities. As the December Shiprock spill demonstrated, oil spills can travel long distances through these smaller waterways and impact downstream communities. It is crucial that as federal regulations are stripped away, we as a state adopt common sense safeguards, such as water setbacks of oil and gas wells (minimum distance wells must be from waterways), to protect New Mexico’s waters and people.”

Research on the demographics of people living near active oil and gas wells finds that nearly 18 million individuals live within one mile of a well site, including disproportionately large numbers of communities of color, people living below the poverty line, older individuals and young children in certain communities across the U.S. and in New Mexico,” said Jon Goldstein, senior director of legislative and regulatory affairs with Environmental Defense Fund. “EDF supports efforts to protect communities from exposure to health-harming pollution caused by living in proximity to oil and gas operations.”

“Oil and gas development causes spills, leaks, and other incidents that adversely impact New Mexico’s environmental resources, including precious freshwater resources and wildlife habitat,” said Sally Paez, staff attorney for New Mexico Wild. “The federal Bureau of Land Management already requires operators to locate oil and gas facilities away from waters and sensitive wildlife habitat. New Mexico should meet or exceed these federal guidelines to protect our irreplaceable natural resources.”

Background resources:

  • Senate Memorial 8 fact sheet
  • Summary of science California relied on to pass setback laws (full report here)
  • More than 34,000 children live or attend school near oil and gas wells in New Mexico.
  • A nationwide study on 2016 data (before the Permian Basin oil and gas surge) found that oil and gas pollution worsened asthma for more than 410,000 people, induced asthma in more than 2,000 children, and caused 7,500 excess deaths. The pollution cost people $77 billion in health-related costs.
  • Another study found an increase in congenital heart defects in babies whose pregnant parent lived near oil and gas wells.
  • In 2023, the State Land Office banned new oil and gas drilling within one mile of schools on state trust land and ordered review of all existing oil and gas mineral leases within one mile of a school or other educational institution.
  • This study found that a child living within a mile of a gas well was 5-7 times more likely to develop lymphoma than a child living at least five miles from a gas well. Children diagnosed with any of the four studied cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumor, bone tumors) were four times more likely to live within half a mile of a gas well.
  • This study found children living near oil and gas drilling at birth were 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia between the ages of 2 and 7 than those who did not live near this oil and gas activity.
  • This study found a positive correlation between proximity to oil and gas development and birth defects in Ohio, which has experienced a large increase in oil and gas extraction, similar to that in the Permian.
  • Earthworks built this Oil and Gas Threat Map showing proximity of New Mexico residents and facilities to oil and gas infrastructure.
  • EDF built this map of people’s proximity to oil and gas infrastructure in New Mexico.
  • State data on oil and gas spills are available here.
  • Earthworks and Citizens Caring for the Future, a Carlsbad nonprofit, recently published videos illustrating the proximity of oil and gas infrastructure to homes, schools, and medical facilities in southeastern New Mexico (Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, also embedded below).


Tannis Fox, Western Environmental Law Center, 505-629-0732,

Andrew Forkes-Gudmunson, Earthworks, 507-421-9021,

Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, 575-770-832,

Sr. Joan Brown, osf, NM Interfaith Power and Light, 505-264-9966,

Earthworks Video 1: Unmasking the Technology: Less Emissions, More Impact

Earthworks Video 2: Sparking the Change for Kid-Safe Schools

Earthworks Video 3: Health Impacts Unveiled: The Unseen Dangers in Our Neighborhoods

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