State moves to update oil and gas permits, while on the federal level, BLM cuts public protest period

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.

NM AG joins California on support for methane-waste rule

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.

News flash: 2017 has been hot + news around NM

Early Wednesday morning, a pipeline owned by Enterprise Products, a natural gas company, exploded south of Carlsbad, near Loving. Homes were evacuated and details are still scarce. The Carlsbad Current Argus has continuing coverage. Elizabeth Miller’s story about work being done in Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve in this week’s Santa Fe Reporter offers a reminder that while locals sometimes grumble when it’s done near their backyards, the chainsaw-and-herbicide work of restoration is important. Thanks to a state grant, the Santa Fe-Pojoaque Soil and Water Conservation District removed 6.5 acres of invasive Russian olive trees from around the preserve.

Around NM: Ranching, drilling, mining news + climate change

Susan Montoya Bryan wrote that a federal court sided with the Goss family in Otero County in a lawsuit over their claims that the federal government violated its constitutional rights. The U.S. Forest Service fenced off areas where the family had grazed cattle to protect an endangered species within sensitive stream habitat. This is our weekly environmental email that goes out on Thursdays before publication on the site on Fridays. If you want it on Thursdays, sign up! #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Tensions high as Sandoval County proposes new oil and gas ordinance

Sandoval County’s attempts to plan for oil and gas development continue to draw heated criticism. At their October 19 meeting, county commissioners pulled a proposed ordinance from the agenda, but the commission fielded public comments for nearly an hour, mostly from people who oppose the proposed oil and gas ordinance. Sandoval County covers 3,700 square miles, stretching from Bernalillo to Counselor and Placitas to Torreon. Widespread drilling already occurs in the northern part of the county, which overlaps with the energy-rich San Juan Basin. Those wells are concentrated along Highway 550 north of Cuba and near the Navajo Nation.

Court says feds broke the law when delaying new royalty rule

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.

BP pulling jobs, but not wells, from New Mexico

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.

Zinke issues order to boost drilling on federal lands, including in NM’s Permian Basin

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.

As court knocks down methane rule stay, industry and regulators eye the Permian Basin

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.

NM’s power structure‚ then and now

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.