March 2012

Excerpts from the Map’s Brochure: Threats to Water, Air and Land



As the Southwest becomes more arid due to growth and climate change, water resources become ever more stretched. As water quantity decreases, water quality is more easily compromised. Approximately 90% of New Mexicans rely on groundwater for drinking.


Oil and Gas Industrial Contamination

New Mexico ranks second in natural gas production and fifth in oil production within the U.S. During 2001, 69.9 million barrels of oil and 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were produced.

Safeguards such as the 2008 Pit Rule theoretically reduce contamination of shallow groundwater aquifers. Before 2008, the oil industry self-reported more than 700 cases of groundwater contamination due to oil and gas development.

Hydrofracking is a method of injecting millions of gallons of clean water mixed with toxic chemicals and radioactive sand into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well. The safety of the water is a growing concern.

This process is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.

Each coalbed methane well uses from 50,000 to 350,000 gallons of water.

Deeper horizontal shale wells can use 2 to 10 million gallons of water per well.



The San Juan River Basin provides the majority of drinking water for the area.

Coal Cycle

Surface water and groundwater are contaminated during extraction of coal, its subsequent preparation and the disposal of mine waste if no mitigating measures are used.

Sites have been abandoned without adequate reclamation.

Coal mining and power plants utilize large amounts of water.

In 2010, coal-fired power plants emitted 72.3 % of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the U.S.

In 2010, the San Juan Generating Station produced more than 8.5 million tons of carbon air pollution and consumed more than 9.3 billion gallons of clean water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the San Juan Generating Station is the 18th highest nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide emitter of the 496 U.S. coal-fired power plants.

Over 90% of the state’s power-related GHG emissions occur at coal-fired power plants. The plants at San Juan and the Four Corners produce 75% of the total emissions.

Because of intensive gas, oil and coal industries in New Mexico, the per capita GHG emissions are almost twice the U.S. average (42 v. 25).




Regional aquifers, springs and small rivers provide water for this area.


Groundwater and soil in the Churchrock area is threatened and contaminated.

New uranium mining is being proposed in the Grants uranium mining belt.


Uranium mining and milling

About 40% of the uranium extracted in the U.S. was mined and milled in New Mexico.

From 1952 to 1990, the Homestake Mill produced 21 million tons of uranium mine tailings.


On July 16, 1979, the Churchrock Milldam of uranium milling wastes collapsed, spilling 100 million gallons of radioactive liquid and 1,100 tons of mill tailings into the Puerco River.

Today, years after mine and mill closures, contaminants affect aquifers, surface water, air and land.




In 2008 the EPA designated Española Basin as a sole source drinking water aquifer.


Nuclear weapons manufacturing and waste storage at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Over 21 million cubic feet of chemical and radioactive wastes have been buried in unlined pits, trenches, and shafts at LANL, with 2,100 sites that have the potential to release contaminants into canyons feeding the Rio Grande and recharging the regional aquifer.




Aquifers and the Rio Grande Basin provide drinking water for Central New Mexico.


Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories

At Sandia National Laboratories, 1.5 million cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous wastes are buried in unlined pits and trenches at the mixed waste landfill dump. No effective monitoring is in place.


Both eight million gallons of leaked jet fuel as well as perchlorate from open-air detonation and burning of rocket motors now contaminate Albuquerque’s aquifer.


Trinity Nuclear Weapon Test Site and White Sands Missile Range

The first plutonium-based atomic device detonated at the Trinity Site on July 16, 1945, released 13.2 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, of which 2.6 pounds fissioned. The remaining 10.6 pounds dispersed over farms, ranches, fields, milk cows and rainwater cisterns.

Cancer mortality rates for the four counties surrounding the Trinity Site (Lincoln, Otero, Sierra and Socorro) are three to eight times the national rate.



The Ogallala Aquifer lies under almost all of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas. The Pecos River is a major surface water body.


Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)

WIPP is the world’s first waste repository for nuclear and toxic materials from nuclear weapons that are hazardous for thousands of generations.


Uranium Enrichment, Processing and Deconversion Facilities

In 2010, URENCO began enriching uranium, generating tons of depleted uranium (DU) hexafluoride waste near Eunice, where 5,016 containers can be stored on site.


International Isotopes proposes a DU hexafluoride deconversion facility near Hobbs to deconvert DU hexafluoride to DU oxide, which would be disposed at a yet-to-be-determined location.




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