Well pads and their associated roads are easily visible from the sky.

Ex-energy exec to head Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department

Governor Susana Martinez announced her new pick for secretary of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. The department’s new secretary-designate, Ken McQueen, retired as San Juan vice president from WPX Energy earlier this year. That energy company has rights to lease about 100,000 acres of federal, state and Navajo allottee lands in the San Juan Basin and has drilled more than 100 oil wells in recent years along the Highway 550 corridor near Lybrook and Counselor. It also operates wells across the highway from Lybrook Elementary School. Drilling activity in the basin has stalled since the downturn in oil and gas prices.

A Luna pack wolf in the winter of 2011

Feds release latest funding for wolf, rancher programs

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its latest round of funding to help ranchers affected by or living near wolves earlier this month. Nationwide, the grants amount to $900,000. One-third of that money will go toward projects in Arizona and New Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wolf Livestock Demonstration Grant Program offers two types of matching, competitive grants to states and tribes. One compensates livestock owners when wolves are proven to have killed their animals.

Flaring at a well in northern New Mexico.

New Mexico supports BLM in methane rule fight

New Mexico has joined the fight over the federal government’s regulation of methane releases from oil and gas operations. This week, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a motion to intervene in the case the industry filed against the federal government. The Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Association of America want to overturn the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s rule that regulates the release of methane, or natural gas, from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands. New Mexico and California support the rule. According to court documents the BLM’s rules will benefit the two states in three ways: generating more annual revenue by cutting natural gas waste, protecting public health from harmful air pollution and reducing the impacts of climate change.

In places like New Mexico, companies have been using hydraulic fracturing technology for decades.

EPA report: Fracking can affect drinking water

In its final report on how hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is affecting water supplies, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency said the common oil and gas drilling technology can, in fact, contaminate drinking water supplies. The report was released earlier this week. New Mexico has tens of thousands of oil and gas wells in the northwestern and southeastern parts of the state. And while the practice has received more public attention in recent years, companies have used the technology here for decades. During the process, operators inject wells with chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, petroleum distillates, ethanol, sodium chloride and trimethylbenzene.

Oil well in southeastern New Mexico

Commission approves water plans amid backdrop of falling water supply

At Monday’s meeting of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC), directors voted to accept two of the state’s regional water plans, one for Lea County and another for the Lower Pecos Valley. The plans are part of a legislatively-mandated regional water planning effort, which at some point is supposed to be rolled into an updated water plan for the entire state. The process dates back to the 1980s. Over the past few years, ISC staff, consultants and local stakeholders have updated plans for each of the state’s 16 water districts. All regional water plan must be accepted by the Interstate Stream Commission, a public body made up of governor appointees.

On the eastern edge of the Navajo Nation, some communities oppose increased energy development.

Standing Rock resonates in New Mexico

The Dakota Access Pipeline may be 1,000 miles away from the southwest, but issues raised at Standing Rock—related to energy development and Indian lands and rights—resonate here in New Mexico. “In the case of Standing Rock, I think it sent a very strong message about what we can do, what being involved in a community can do, and the pressure it can put on an agency,” said Theresa Pasqual, an archaeologist and former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office who now works as a consultant. “I hope that here in New Mexico, especially for people that have been following the Standing Rock tribe’s movement to protect its water and to protect its cultural resources, that they will take an interest in what happens here, but also say, ‘What can I do? What can I do to be engaged locally?’” Doing so, she said, can change the “course of conversation” around many of the energy issues that affect New Mexico’s tribes. Related: The launch of our new environmental beat

Indeed, New Mexico’s tribes have struggled with issues not unlike those raised in Standing Rock for a long time.

People of all political backgrounds love New Mexico for its mountains and deserts, blue skies and unique landscapes. And yet, discussions about natural resources, the environment and regulations often become politicized.

The launch of our new environment beat

After more than a decade of freelancing for magazines, newspapers and radio, I’m settling down. Beginning this month, readers of NM Political Report will start seeing more news stories about water, environmental justice, public lands, wildlife, nuclear waste, climate change and energy. As much as I have loved working with different editors and teams over the years, I am relieved that NM Political Report has decided it needs to be covering statewide environmental issues regularly. During a time when issues like climate change, water and environmental regulations have become increasingly important, newspapers nationwide have cut their science and environment beats. On top of that, strapped newsrooms often don’t have the resources—or the subscribers—to justify covering issues that are so important to rural communities.