On a late March weekend, State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard headed out to the Permian Basin, to visit oil wells on state trust lands. These are wells that churn out profits for corporations, build up the state’s general fund from taxes and royalties and send money to schools and hospitals. Looking through a special camera that detects emissions of volatile organic compounds, Garcia Richard also saw that the wells are sending methane and other pollutants into the air. “There are seemingly innocuous pieces of equipment, tanks, pipes, and then you look at it with the FLIR camera and you can see these clouds of emissions,” the commissioner said. “We went to some older operations, some newer operations, some [wells operated] by some smaller companies, some by larger companies.”
Given the fire hose of news from Washington, D.C. every day, New Mexicans can be forgiven if they miss stories about environmental overhauls from the White House and funding mishaps in Congress. But ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to climate-changing methane emissions, less money for public lands and parks or the intergenerational impacts of mercury exposure. At NM Political Report, we’re continuing to track the federal changes that affect New Mexicans. Here are a few of the most important issues that popped up recently. Udall: Climate change ‘moral test of our age’
At the end of last month, Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund lapse.
SANTA FE, N.M. – Conservation groups are slamming a move by the Trump administration to weaken rules on methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The new rule, proposed on Tuesday, would allow companies to inspect their lines for leaks less often, and take longer to fix issues that arise. Industry has long claimed the Obama-era rules are too expensive and burdensome. However, Matt Watson, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Program, said methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas that merits a strong federal standard. “Over 20 years, it’s more than 80 times more powerful than C02 [carbon dioxide] at trapping heat.
On Wednesday, Gov. Susana Martinez and her energy secretary testified in Washington, D.C. that New Mexico is losing revenue from oil and gas drilling due to bureaucratic backlogs. Martinez and Ken McQueen, a former energy executive who now heads the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, testified before a House committee in support of four energy bills, including two proposed by Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM. Before running for Congress, Pearce owned and operated an oilfield services company. In November, he will face Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham in the race for New Mexico governor. In Martinez’s spoken remarks before the House Resources Committee, she criticized the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for its slow pace in approving drilling applications, blaming those delays on $2 million of lost revenues per day.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship has launched a media blitz arguing the Trump administration’s plan to roll back a waste-prevention rule on methane is not consistent with conservative principles. The Obama-era rule was designed to prevent energy waste, ensure a fair return on royalties, and improve air quality. It was set to take effect earlier this year, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said it was a burden on the industry and called for it to be eliminated. David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. He said he wants New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce to stop supporting the rollback.
The New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) Air Quality Bureau will host a hearing on Monday about proposed changes to construction permits for oil and gas facilities. The process kicked off in the summer of 2016, and the public comment period closed at the end of January. According to the department, the general construction permit codifies air protection rules for industry to “streamline the application process and to provide consistency in the oversight process.”
The issue is the latest in a line of moves that environmental groups say reverse protections for people and natural resources. Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund, said that if finalized, the changes would make New Mexico’s new oil and gas construction permits among the weakest in the United States. “This is especially egregious when you consider the methane hotspot in the San Juan Basin and the importance of that issue in New Mexico,” Goldstein said.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has again joined forces with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, this time in a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its suspension of a rule to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Earlier this month, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delayed implementation of the Obama-era requirement until January 2019. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management rule would have cut methane released from wells and infrastructure on federal and tribal lands by limiting routine flaring and requiring that operators modernize leak-detection technology and fix the leaks they found. It also prevented operators from venting methane directly into the atmosphere in most circumstances. New Mexico and California had supported the original rule, saying it would benefit states in three key ways: generating more annual revenue by cutting natural gas waste, protecting public health from harmful air pollution and reducing the impacts of climate change.
On Thursday, the Trump administration continued to make its priorities clear when it comes to industry, the environment and climate change. Just days after President Donald Trump and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary announced changes to national monuments, Zinke’s agency delayed plans to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. On Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management published a rule to delay implementation of the Obama-era requirement until January 2019. Methane, a greenhouse gas, contributes to the warming of the planet. It is also a marketable product—the same natural gas many people use to cook with and heat their homes.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Interior Department wants to delay an Obama administration directive requiring energy companies to reduce methane emissions at drilling sites on federal lands. But one company with plans to drill in New Mexico says it will capture methane emissions with or without regulations. XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, recently invested $6 billion in acreage in New Mexico’s Permian Basin. The company said it’s committed to reducing methane emissions from its production and midstream operations nationwide. Jon Goldstein, director for regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund, said it shows that one of the biggest oil and gas producers in the U.S. is stepping up to make a positive impact.
The oil company BP announced it will close its Farmington, New Mexico office by the end of the year and reduce its in-state workforce by about 40 employees. Other current New Mexico employees will be relocated to the company’s office in Durango, Colorado. In a statement, the company said that move will “help improve the efficiency and competitiveness of its operations in the San Juan Basin.”
The company emphasized in its emailed statement it “has no plans to decrease its overall investment in New Mexico.” Currently, the company operates 2,600 wells in the state and will “seek to drill new wells in New Mexico when feasible.”
Earlier this year, BP announced it will open its new headquarters in Denver next year. In recent years, Colorado has increased regulations for oil and gas drilling within state boundaries. Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, announced the state’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.