Permian Basin oil and gas activity is increasing geological hazards

Aug 31, 2023

new report has found that oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin is deforming the landscape and increasing the risks to infrastructure. Using satellite data and remote sensing, the researchers found ground subsidence of an average of 3-4 centimeters per year across the Permian Basin, with some areas experiencing more dramatic subsidence and still other areas where the ground is uplifting, which the researchers compared to the way in which land rebounds when glaciers retreat from it.

The study points out that the area’s geology is fairly stable, indicating that these changes to the landscape are not due to natural geological phenomena, but rather to oil and gas extraction. The study also found that some of the subsidence was due to potash mining, which caused subsidence of around 100 centimeters per year during a time period when potash was in high demand and there was an increase in potash mining in areas of New Mexico.

The study authors warn that this landscape disturbance has “contributed to the alarming increase in geohazards, sometimes permanently altering the local ecosystem, and is a growing concern for communities and policymakers worldwide.” Uneven changes to the surface can lead to damage to oil and gas wells and pipelines, causing leaks that contaminate water, air, and soil. Residential and commercial structures in communities across the Permian Basin have also been damaged. New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard expressed alarm at the findings, calling the impact of oil and gas activity on the land “kind of a scary thing to contemplate.”

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Quote of the day

We exist to make money for public schools. But if the activities that we’re doing on the lands are putting New Mexicans in harm’s way, then our work is meaningless.”

—Stephanie Garcia Richard, New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands, NM Political Report

Picture This

A view from the base of Half Dome looking up at people climbing the cable route toward the summit


“Half Dome was perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of all the prominent points about Yosemite which has never been and will never be trodden by human foot.”- Josiah Whitney, California State Geologist, 1869.

Over 150 years after Whitney made this claim, we see Half Dome permits issued to about 300 people a day, who wish to trod this iconic peak, aided by cables first installed in 1919. Witnessing hikers on the cable section of Half Dome is a true testimony to the human spirit. Among tears, frustration, determination and joy, fears are faced head on and words of encouragement are exchanged: “You’re past the hardest part”, “Just put one foot in front of the other”, “Take a minute to just breathe”.

A bucket list activity for many, you must come prepared; a permit, grippy footwear and plenty of water are necessities. Many summiters also bring gloves, to protect their hands and better grip the cables. Rangers stationed at the Half Dome checkpoint ask visitors not to leave gloves at the base of the cables. While some leave theirs behind, thinking they’re helping other visitors, the mountain of gloves either rot, due to exposure to the elements, or get blown off of Subdome, becoming trash in the wilderness. After listening to rangers, recent visitor, A.J. Haeffner decided to pack out a full backpack of gloves from Half Dome and hiked them down to the valley. We commend A.J. not only for climbing Half Dome, but for recreating with a stewardship mindset that we hope to foster in all of our visitors.


Featured image: Oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin in New Mexico, EcoFlight via Flickr