This is part of a Moms Clean Air Force series about the health impacts of methane:
Kayley Shoup, Carlsbad, New Mexico
The Permian Basin is the largest oil-producing region in the US located in southeastern New Mexico and the adjoining area of West Texas. Not long after Kayley Shoup moved back to her hometown of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in 2018, a close and young friend was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Then Kayley’s mother, at age 50, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, despite having no family history or known risk factors. Kayley’s mother’s home is located about a half mile from an oil and gas site that houses storage tanks and a flare stack for burning off excess gas.
Around the same time, Kayley started to notice many young people around her facing serious illnesses, including children with leukemia. Others in her community were struggling with respiratory issues, asthma, headaches, and nosebleeds as there were reports of strange smells in the air. She began to research the connection between her community’s health conditions and the toxic air pollution from nearby oil and gas operations. Kayley learned that wherever there are oil and gas operations, you can find climate-warming methane leaking along with harmful pollutants, like benzene, that can worsen asthma, affect lung development in children, and increase the risk of cancer, immune system damage, and neurological problems.
Kayley’s concerns about the health and safety of her community grew deeper in late 2020, when she learned an oil and gas wastewater pipe burst near a family’s home in Eddy County. The family was awoken at 2:30 in the morning as oil and gas wastewater rained down on their home, chickens, and goat. The air smelled strongly of gas, and the pipe continued to spew “produced” water, a by-product of oil and gas extraction, for more than an hour. Produced water may contain salts, heavy metals, chemicals, PFAS, and radioactive materials. The harm to the family’s health is not known, but some animals were so sick they had to be euthanized.
Shortly after hearing of this incident and meeting local community members speaking out about oil and gas, Kayley decided to advocate for protections for her family, friends, and neighbors as a community organizer for Citizens Caring for the Future, a grassroots and frontline-led environmental group working to protect New Mexico communities living in the Permian Basin area. After spending several years traveling the country, teaching music and dance, and performing, Kayley now spends her days educating families and medical professionals about the health risks of living near oil and gas operations and holding the industry accountable. In New Mexico, more than 140,000 people live within a half mile of oil and gas operations that puts their health at risk.
A 2021 aerial survey of nearly 900 oil and gas sites in the Permian Basin revealed massive methane emissions at many sites long after operators were notified of problems. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is the main component of natural gas and responsible for about one-quarter of the climate change impacts the world is already experiencing.
Citizens Caring for the Future, along with Moms Clean Air Force and other organizations, was a driving force behind New Mexico’s new, nation-leading rules to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham adopted new standards that require operators to inspect smaller well sites for methane leaks at least once a year and conduct more leak inspections at well sites located near homes and schools. New Mexico has also taken steps to eliminate routine flaring or burning excess gas, a wasteful and polluting practice that emits a host of climate-warming and health-harming pollutants. With finalized rules in 2022, New Mexico joins Colorado with some of the most comprehensive methane rules in the country.
New Mexico’s methane rules provide a powerful example for EPA as it considers nationwide standards for reducing methane emissions. Kayley is urging EPA to adopt the strongest possible nationwide standards because, while New Mexico has begun to address methane emissions, neighboring Texas has not. “Air pollution travels for miles across state lines. We need federal methane rules to protect New Mexicans and people in every state.”
Kayley continues to advocate for air monitoring around the Permian Basin, so oil and gas operations are sited further away from homes and schools, and funding for environmental agencies, so regulations can be properly enforced. With her friend doing well, she plans to do everything in her power to keep everyone in the Permian Basin area as safe as possible.