The Chino Mine in southwestern New Mexico was one of the first open-pit copper mines in the world.

Copper rule case awaits resolution

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a rule related to the state’s regulation of groundwater beneath copper mines last fall. There’s no saying exactly when the court, which heard the case at the end of September, will issue its opinion. But it could be this year. This comes as the price of copper is on the rise after two years of declines. At the end of last year, the metal rallied—and some analysts expect it to do well in 2017.

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.

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BernCo Commission votes to support methane waste, flaring changes

The Bernalillo County Commission passed a resolution supporting the federal government’s push to create stricter rules on methane leaks and emissions. The proposal passed on a 3-1 vote Tuesday night, with all three Democrats on the commission voting for it and Commissioner Wayne Johnson voting against. Commissioner Lonnie Talbert was not present for the vote. The resolution shows the support of the  Bernalillo County Commission for proposed rules from the Bureau of Land Management and Environmental Protection Agency on methane emissions and leaks from oil and gas drilling. Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins sponsored the resolution and said the proposed federal rules would have a positive impact on health for residents of Bernalillo County, plus help slow down the effects of climate change.

Oil rig in southeast New Mexico.Margaret Wright

Probe finds multiple wrongdoings by ex-Farmington BLM head

A recently-released report by the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General looked into the actions of Steve Henke from when he was in charge of the Bureau of Land Management office in Farmington. The report says the investigation initially looked into the former Farmington district manager’s move from manager of BLM’s field office to being in charge of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. NMOGA represents the oil and gas industry in the state and lobbies BLM and state authorities on behalf of the industry. The OIG, however, expanded the investigation into other areas, including “inappropriate acceptance of meals and other gifts from oil and gas industry representatives,” “authorization of a commercial shooting range illegally construction on BLM land” and alleged misrepresentations and misuse of BLM resources in a land sale. Greenwire, a trade publication, first obtained and wrote about the report by the Interior Department OIG.

Four Corners Methane Cloud

EPA adopts methane rule; NM reacts

The EPA announced a new rule to limit methane pollution from oil and gas wells and cut the size of the methane cloud over the Four Corners. The rule requires all U.S. oil and gas operators to capture methane and other volatile organic compounds that are currently released into the atmosphere during drilling. The rule affects new and modified oil and gas wells. The EPA is working on a rule to cover existing oil and gas wells. Nationally, the oil and gas industry releases 9.8 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere during the course of drilling each year.

Photo Credit: blake.thornberry cc

Land Commissioner slams flaring rule, new ad

New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands opposes a proposed federal rule on flaring of natural gas. Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced he submitted comments against the proposed Bureau of Land Management rule and blamed slow approval of permits for much of the flaring that occurs. Dunn also slammed a conservation group over ads airing on New Mexico TV that support the BLM proposal, calling the ads “all hat and no cattle.”

The group is the Western Values Project. “An out of state special interest group, the so-called ‘Western Values Project’, is spending over $100,000 on TV ads in New Mexico urging BLM to stop venting and flaring,” Dunn said. “In reality, BLM itself has caused a significant amount of venting and flaring on federal and tribal lands because of delays in approving permits and rights-of-way for gas gathering lines.

methane flaring oil gas

Opposition to stopping natural gas waste on the wrong side

Chris Saeger is the director of the Western Values Project. Every year, oil and gas companies waste enough natural gas on public lands through venting, flaring, and leaks to fill the needs of a major American city like Albuquerque for years: They literally burn perfectly good natural gas into the atmosphere without paying a royalty on a resource that could be sold on the open market, where it could heat homes and create jobs.  The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently put forward a rule to combat this wasteful practice and make sure the American people get an honest return on this public resource. Now that the dust has settled from the recent public hearings in New Mexico and throughout the West on this issue, we have the opportunity to take a closer look at some of the industry arguments for why they oppose being accountable for wasting a resource owned by all American taxpayers. First of all, keep in mind that despite the hearing being held in the industry stronghold of Farmington and the local oil and gas companies’ efforts to bus in supporters, positive comments supporting the BLM’s sensible rules actually outweighed opposition by about two to one. However, at the front of the opposition line at the Farmington hearing was the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA).

Kent Salazar, Advisory Board Member for Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting & the Outdoors

New Mexico is #1 in natural gas wasted on public lands

Kent Salazar is an Advisory Board Member for Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting & the Outdoors and the current western vice chair of the National Wildlife Federation Board. From the Aspen forests in the mountains to the arid plains in the desert, New Mexico’s natural diversity is enormous – and an outdoorsman’s dream. I’ve lived here my whole life, enjoying all the state has to offer; hunting game and fishing in our streams, rivers, and lakes. I was raised to respect nature and to take from the land only what’s needed to sustain me and my family. Hunters and anglers, we use every part of what we take.

Rio Chama, Old Spanish Trail. Photo Credit: BLM New Mexico

New Mexico public lands tied up in suspended BLM leases

SANTA FE, N.M. – The Bureau of Land Management is allowing thousands of acres of public land in Western states, including New Mexico, to sit idle as unused oil and gas leases. According to a new report, it’s costing taxpayers millions of dollars in rentals and royalties. The Wilderness Society found suspended leases on more than 3 million acres of public land across the West, including almost 80,000 in New Mexico, that currently are not benefiting the public. Report coauthor Nada Culver, the society’s director for agency policy, said loopholes in the lease-suspension program have cost about $80 million in rental fees alone. “While those leases are in suspension, the operators are not required to pay rent,” she said.

Photo Credit: blake.thornberry cc

Taxpayers group pushes to stop wasting natural gas

FARMINGTON, N.M. – Venting and flaring at oil and natural gas wells on public lands in the Four Corners area costs the public millions in lost royalty revenue, and much more to corporations doing the extraction – not to mention releasing a major climate change contributor into the environment. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group, says the technology exists to stop the practice. Buying advertising in the Santa Fe New Mexican and other publications this week, they’re calling for lawmakers to press the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to pass a rule that ends the waste of taxpayer-owned natural gas on federal lands. Don Schreiber owns Devils’s Spring Ranch in the Four Corners area. “In that escape of natural gas, that is just throwing money away for the oil companies,” he says.