As the feds yank methane regulations, NM’s methane hotspot isn’t going away

With all the big oil and gas news over the last few weeks, it might be hard to keep track of the different rules, agencies, court rulings and studies—and what they mean for New Mexico. Last week, U.S. District Judge James “Jeb” Boasberg ruled that the federal government’s environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline was insufficient. The ruling came after the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes sued the federal government, arguing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t complied with the National Environmental Policy Act when it greenlighted plans to build the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River. In his opinion, Boasberg wrote that the court agrees that the federal government didn’t adequately consider how an oil spill would affect fishing rights, hunting rights or environmental justice issues. It’s not clear, however, if the company must cease operations while the Corps of Engineers reconsiders certain sections of its environmental analysis.

In heart of Southwest, natural gas leaks fuel a methane menace

BLANCO, N.M. –  Most evenings, the quiet is almost intoxicating. The whoosh of the wind through the junipers, the whinny of horses in their stalls, the raspy squawking of ravens – those are the sounds Don and Jane Schreiber have grown to love on their remote Devil’s Spring Ranch. The views are mesmerizing, too. Long, lonesome ridges of khaki-colored rocks, dome-like outcrops and distant mesas rise from a sea of sage and rabbitbrush. The ranch and surrounding countryside are a surprising setting for an enduring climate change problem: a huge cloud of methane – a potent, heat-trapping gas – that is 10 times larger than the city of Chicago.

Senate rejects repeal of methane waste rule

U.S. Senators voted against overturning a rule aimed at cutting methane waste from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands Wednesday morning. The surprise defeat of the effort was on a 49-51 vote, with Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voting along with Democrats to keep the rule. Note: This is a developing story and we will update as new information comes to light and members of New Mexico’s delegation react. As we reported yesterday, both of New Mexico’s senators oppose overturning the rule. Both Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are Democrats.

BLM: NM will get $70 million from oil and gas leases

After reviewing hundreds of pages of protests, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said the agency is almost set to release a payment of nearly $70 million dollars for oil and gas leases to the state of New Mexico. The spokeswoman, Donna Hummel, told NM Political Report Thursday afternoon that an oil and gas internal review process is complete and New Mexico could see the money in a few months. “We feel confident that the state will have its lease payment of about $70 million by June 1,” Hummel said. Hummel added the dollar amount New Mexico receives could change, though it’s unlikely. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, and the Democratic members of the delegation sent letters to the BLM urging the agency to release funds owed to the state.

Meet the new Trump staffers in charge of tribal, land, water and wildlife issues

When speaking to a congressional committee more than two decades ago about a bill that would have made sweeping changes to the federal Endangered Species Act, Kathleen Benedetto said the landmark 1973 law was flawed for not taking “into consideration that extinctions are part of that natural process.”

“If you look at the geological record, you can see throughout time that extinctions occurred,” Benedetto said in the 1995 House Committee on Natural Resources hearing. “We’re all aware that the dinosaurs were here for millions of years, and they’re not here any longer, and they disappeared long before man ever emerged as a species.”

Related: Bill would terminate BLM, Forest Service law enforcement

Benedetto co-founded the Women’s Mining Coalition and spoke on behalf of Grassroots ESA Coalition, an anti-regulation group aligned with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Now, Benedetto is one of the new special assistants to Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. She’s reportedly in the Bureau of Land Management after working on Donald Trump’s transition team and as a Republican legislative staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee. As a GS-15 employee she’ll be earning between $101,630-$132,122 per year.

Bill would allow wild horse removals

David Robbins lives 200 paces from a rectangular yellow sign that informs drivers passing through Alto in southeast New Mexico of the presence of wild horses. He says people stop to take pictures of the animals, which he says don’t pose a threat to the community. Some Alto residents disagree and say they need a legal means to get rid of the horses. Under proposed legislation, Senate Bill 126, the state Livestock Board would have the authority to remove wild or abandoned horses from private property and sell them at auction if unclaimed. The bill highlights a debate that has echoed in the West in recent years.

Martinez wants Congress to repeal methane rule

Gov. Susana Martinez is urging Congress to repeal a federal rule that seeks to stop the waste of methane from oil and gas producers. Martinez sent a letter to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., outlining her opposition to the rule, which was put in place by the Bureau of Land Management during the Barack Obama administration. Martinez argued that it would mean less royalties to state and federal governments. “Rather than allowing this misguided rule to move forward, I urge you to repeal the rule and work with the Department of Interior to address the infrastructure challenges currently causing venting and flaring events to occur,” Martinez wrote. “Insufficient pipeline capacity and gas processing capacity make it difficult for producers to capture and sell as much of their product as possible.”

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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.

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.

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.