A federal judge said Wednesday that the United States government broke the law when it delayed a rule updating how royalties are calculated when companies drill and mine offshore and on federal and tribal lands. Those royalties are paid out to states, tribes and the United States government. After five years of analysis, meetings with stakeholders and public comment, in 2016 the Office of Natural Resource Revenue (ONRR) issued a rule updating valuation rules, which had been set in the 1980s. ONRR estimated the changes would increase royalty collections by $71.9 to $84.9 million annually. The rule took effect on January 1, 2017 and initial reports were due in February.
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.
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an order Thursday, aimed at boosting oil and gas leasing on federal lands. During a call with reporters, Zinke said the agency was specifically targeting for development places like the Permian Basin in New Mexico, Utah’s Uintah Basin and the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Out of the 700 million acres administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), he said only about 27 million are currently under lease. He also called out the agency for the length of time it takes to approve permits for oil and gas projects. The BLM’s permitting process, he said, takes 257 days.
A federal court has thwarted plans by the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend an Obama-era rule tracking and cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. Last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suspended his agency’s implementation of the rule, which was opposed by the American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. But on Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with six environmental groups and granted an emergency stay of Pruitt’s suspension. In their opinion, the appeals court judges wrote that Pruitt’s suspension of the rule was both “unauthorized” and “unreasonable.” They overturned it, calling it arbitrary, capricious and in excess of the agency’s statutory authority. Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the court decision could have a big effect on New Mexico, particularly in the southeastern part of the state.
Thanks to Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoes of the higher education and legislative budgets, hostilities between the governor’s office and legislators over taxes and next year’s budget are playing out statewide, and daily in the headlines. Soon, the two parties will be facing off in the New Mexico Supreme Court over those two line-item budget vetoes. On the surface, the battle is over the budget. It also raises deeper questions about power and control: Can one person and a handful of executive office staffers and advisers wield ultimate power over the 112 legislators elected from communities across the state? But beneath the layers of campaigns, elections and public debates, there are also powerful people, companies and industries at work behind the scenes.
Oil and gas companies reported fewer toxic spills in New Mexico last year than in 2015. According to the Center for Western Priorities’ 2016 Spill Tracker, companies reported 1,310 spills in 2016. Most of those occurred in Lea and Eddy counties, the site of most drilling activity in the state. The nonpartisan group’s Spill Tracker is based on publicly-available records from New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division, which is within the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. According to the Spill Tracker, five companies were responsible for nearly 40 percent of all spills of crude oil, natural gas and produced water.
Happy Birthday to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Last Saturday, the 242,000-acre monument near Taos turned four. Managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the monument includes the Rio Grande Gorge, protecting that stretch of the Rio Grande as a Wild and Scenic River, as well as lands that stretch all the way to the Colorado border. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, monuments like this one help the local economy: Designation of Río Grande del Norte bolstered that economic advance. After the monument’s first year, the Bureau of Land Management’s Taos Field Office reported a 40 percent increase in visitors to the area.
Saturday night, freshman state Rep. Derrick Lente watched one of his first initiatives turn into a showdown on the House floor. Earlier in the session, Lente’s memorial to protect cultural and historical sites near Chaco Canyon received bipartisan support and passed through the House State Government, Indian and Veterans’ Affairs Committee unanimously. Something changed, though. By the time it reached the House floor, the Democrat’s memorial had triggered uncertainty and skepticism from Republicans. That’s because there was an elephant lurking in the room, said Lente, who is from the Pueblo of Sandia.
Monday night, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to restore the state Oil Conservation Division’s ability to penalize oil and gas companies that pollute water. If passed by the Legislature, Senate Bill 307 would also increase those penalties, which haven’t been updated since the Oil and Gas Act of 1935. Related story: Bill to bring back oil and gas pollution penalty moves forward
The committee passed the bill by a vote of 6-3, with Republican Sen. Ron Griggs, Alamogordo, joining Democrats in voting to advance the bill. Like when the bill moved through the Senate Conservation Committee earlier in the session, during last night’s meeting, environmental groups stood in support of the bill while energy lobbyists opposed it. This time, however, representatives from the Oil Conservation Division attended the meeting, answering a question raised by a committee member and speaking in support of the bill.
Should we start off the weekly environmental news wrap up nice and easy? If you haven’t gotten out to the Rio Grande, including Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, to see the sandhill cranes, you might want to do that as soon as possible. The birds are starting their migrations north—and won’t be back to New Mexico until November. Now, for the rest of the news and some newly-released studies. There is a lot happening across New Mexico, especially when it comes to issues like nuclear facilities, state agencies and the Trump administration’s impact on rules and regulations.