The New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission delayed a decision to approve an energy company’s request to increase well density in two northern New Mexico counties. At its meeting on Thursday, the commission also rejected a community group’s request to intervene in the hearing. Hilcorp Energy Company’s Justin Furnace emailed a statement on Thursday evening. “The Commission made it clear today that the application has merit, but at the Commission’s request, Hilcorp will be re-notifying affected operators in the San Juan Basin to ensure that they are aware of the proposed change,” Furnace wrote. Hilcorp asked the state to amend the “pool rule,” or well density requirements, in the Blanco-Mesaverde Gas Pool in San Juan and Rio Arriba counties. Under the current rules, companies can drill four wells within the designated 320-acre spacing units, and only two can be drilled within each 160-acre section.
On a windy Monday morning in May, residents packed the Counselor Chapter House. Some sat in plastic folding chairs, while others leaned against the wall, all paying attention to the speakers. Coming to the front of the chapter house, Marie Herbert-Chavez introduced herself in the Navajo language. “I’m going to talk real fast OK,” she said as she took the microphone to talk about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in her community near Chaco Canyon. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Four members of the Navajo Nation Council, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Councilor Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Councilor Davis Filfred and Councilor Leonard Tsosie who represents Counselor as well as nearby chapters, had come to hear testimony from area residents.
If you haven’t gone out to look at the Rio Grande, no matter where along its banks you live, now’s the time. The snowmelt is pouring down the channel, causing the river to overbank in lots of places throughout the Middle Rio Grande Valley. In southern New Mexico, the normally dry channel is also running as water managers are moving water from reservoirs to southern New Mexico fields and orchards and to Texas. Speaking of snowmelt, March was an exceptionally warm month in New Mexico. According to the National Weather Service, 143 record-high temperatures were broken across 34 weather stations on 15 days.
I’ve been reporting on environment issues for almost 15 years, and during most of that time, it hasn’t exactly been a breaking news beat. There are disasters like wildfires or the Gold King Mine spill. But for the most part, covering issues like drought, climate change and energy policy doesn’t usually involve a race to deadline. It seems like that’s been changing lately, however. Part of that change is due to the Trump administration.
The Dakota Access Pipeline may be 1,000 miles away from the southwest, but issues raised at Standing Rock—related to energy development and Indian lands and rights—resonate here in New Mexico. “In the case of Standing Rock, I think it sent a very strong message about what we can do, what being involved in a community can do, and the pressure it can put on an agency,” said Theresa Pasqual, an archaeologist and former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office who now works as a consultant. “I hope that here in New Mexico, especially for people that have been following the Standing Rock tribe’s movement to protect its water and to protect its cultural resources, that they will take an interest in what happens here, but also say, ‘What can I do? What can I do to be engaged locally?’” Doing so, she said, can change the “course of conversation” around many of the energy issues that affect New Mexico’s tribes. Related: The launch of our new environmental beat
Indeed, New Mexico’s tribes have struggled with issues not unlike those raised in Standing Rock for a long time.
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.
New Mexico’s two biggest energy-producing regions are two of the most-polluted in the nation when it comes to methane emissions, according to a study released today. Both the San Juan Basin and the Permian Basin rank as the third and fourth most methane polluted regions in the country, according to the Washington D.C.-based progressive think tank Center for American Progress’ “The Who’s Who of Methane Pollution” report. The report is based on 2014 data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The San Juan Basin, located mostly in northwestern New Mexico, emits the most methane per well in the country. Methane emissions are commonly viewed as a greenhouse gas more harmful than carbon dioxide and the report underlines this point and pushes the federal government for strong regulations limiting them.
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.