New Mexico has a long and storied history with the extraction of natural resources. Native Americans mined turquoise and other minerals long before European prospectors and settlers even set foot in North America. Ever since hydrocarbons were first discovered in the state in the early 1920’s, the land became a new frontier for oil, coal and gas extraction. As the bloody conquest of the American West played out, the appetite for natural resources only grew. Mining towns dotted the freshly drawn territories that had been forcibly taken from their original inhabitants. Oil wells were discovered sometimes quite by accident, such as when settlers dug in search of water in the dry landscape and found oil instead. These discoveries changed the history of the state, as well as the very delicate balance that exists in true wilderness areas, especially the desert.
Growing up in New Mexico, I had little to no idea of the importance of the history that was playing out all around me. I had no idea that part of our state lies within the Permian Basin, one of the most productive oil producing regions in the whole world. As climate change shifted from a fringe political call to the most important issue of our time, I became fascinated with my own state’s role in pulling oil out of the ground. The extraction and burning of coal, so long a major industry in New Mexico, has also played a part in creating a planet that will soon be uninhabitable. This ongoing project is an attempt to get a closer look at how my hometown and its surrounding areas have contributed to the existential threat of climate change. I have been photographing both historical sites, (such as the now closed anthracite coal mines located near Madrid, New Mexico) as well as the construction of a new gas pipeline that runs from Bernalillo to Santa Fe. The new gas pipeline cost the state $60 million to build, and is being quietly completed, even as the rest of New Mexico is on lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid 19.
Tailings from a closed anthracite coal mine. Madrid, NM.
Large chunks of anthracite coal. Madrid, NM.
Josh Zimber (b. 1994) is a New Mexico based documentary photographer. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from The New School in 2017, where he majored in journalism and minored in global studies. His work focuses on issues of conflict, political upheaval and climate related stories. He has documented the conflict in Palestine/Israel and is currently working on a series focusing on climate change and the repercussions of extraction in New Mexico.