New Mexico birders have the opportunity to participate in a community science project

A group of researchers chose a mountain peak in New Mexico as a location where birders can help with breeding bird counts. The Mountain Bird Network selected Deception Peak, which can be accessed from the Ski Santa Fe area, in New Mexico as one of three locations to start the community science project. The data gathered will be used to inform studies looking into the impacts of climate change on birds. Ethan Linck, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of New Mexico, will lead the efforts in the state. “I always like science that can involve the public and demystify the scientific process,” he said.

PRC receives first grid modernization application

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has received its first grid modernization application since the state Legislature passed the Energy Grid Modernization Roadmap during the 2020 session. Southwestern Public Service Company filed an application for grid modernization on June 4 and, during the Tuesday PRC meeting, the commission’s counsel Judith Amer informed members that it was the first application of its kind. The Energy Grid Modernization Roadmap provides a way for regulated utilities to recover the cost of investing in grid modernization through an approved tariff rider or changes in the base rates. SPS’s proposal calls for recovery through an approved rider. SPS plans to install an advanced metering infrastructure, which will allow for real-time tracking of customer’s electrical usage through the use of smart meters.

Study: Pneumatic controllers, wellbore liquids unloading make Hilcorp the top methane emitter

Hilcorp Energy, a prominent oil and gas company that operates in the San Juan Basin, has the highest reported methane emissions in the country, according to a report released this month by the Clean Air Task Force in collaboration with Ceres. The report, which was authored by the advisory group M.J. Bradley and Associates, states that Hilcorp’s methane emissions intensity is about six times the national average and, in the San Juan Basin, more than half of the emissions come from Hilcorp facilities. This is important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In 2014, NASA discovered a methane hotspot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin. While it remains unclear how much methane naturally seeps out of the earth in the San Juan Basin, studies have concluded that fossil fuel extraction is a significant contributor.

LNG proponents say exports could reduce emissions, but critics call it a bridge to nowhere

Touting natural gas as a bridge fuel to help address global climate change, a study released by the Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative (WSTN) states that replacing coal-fired generation in several Asian countries with liquefied natural gas from Rocky Mountain states could reduce net life cycle emissions by 42 to 55 percent, which some groups dispute. Jason Sandel, the chairman of WSTN, said Rocky Mountain natural gas is a “viable fuel for a fuel switch which will have a positive impact for emissions across the globe.”

This would be done by transporting the natural gas to a facility in the Baja California region of Mexico where it would be liquefied prior to transport to Asian countries. “I see, really, more opportunities than I do challenges,” Sandel said, although he said he was not surprised by the results of the study. Sandel described the study as a “first of its kind” in terms of looking at the Rocky Mountain region. He said similar studies examined LNG from other regions, including Canada, and those studies have also shown that it could lead to reduced emissions.

NMED secretary says federal regulations are needed for PFAS

Toxic chemicals that do not break down in the environment have been threatening water sources nationwide, witnesses told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works during a hearing on Wednesday. Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, have received attention in New Mexico and nationwide as they were used in firefighting foam at two air force bases. This contamination has migrated from the military bases and led to water contamination at a dairy farm near Clovis in eastern New Mexico. While these chemicals can lead to cancer as well as other health effects, there are no federal rules regulating them. That needs to change, according to New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney who told the committee that a federal regulatory framework is needed for PFAS.

Dispute over wolf cross-fostering in Catron County

After learning about a plan to place captive-born Mexican wolves in a den of wild wolves in Catron County, Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican from New Mexico, wrote a letter to State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard urging her to reconsider the move. “These activities are occurring less than two miles from the home of several of my constituents who have expressed to me their extreme alarm and fear for the safety of their family and livestock,” Herrell wrote in the letter dated May 7. “These constituents were only notified several days before the cross-fostering was to begin, giving them little time to voice their opposition.”

Garcia Richard granted permission in April for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cross-foster wolves at the den. The cross-fostering of wolves is done to increase genetic diversity among the population. In her letter, Herrell said the cross-fostering places lessees at greater risk for harm caused by the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf.

NMED investigates size of PFAS plumes

The New Mexico Environment Department is investigating the size of the PFAS plumes in eastern New Mexico. PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are chemicals that were used in firefighting foam at two air force bases in the state. The chemicals can impact human health and are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade in the environment. For decades, the U.S. Department of Defense did not properly dispose of the foam at Holloman and Cannon air force bases. This led to groundwater contamination.

Scientists say dire climate change scenarios should be taken into account in Colorado River Basin water management

Climate change threatens the availability of water in the Colorado River basin and water managers need to take steps now to prepare, the director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico John Fleck and Brad Udall, the senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, argue in a recent editorial. The two scientists published the editorial in last Friday’s edition of the research journal Science. “We share the concern that the decision makers are not doing what we think needs to be done to fully incorporate the risks of climate change in the decisions that have to be made over the next few years on the Colorado River,” Fleck said in an interview with NM Political Report. The editorial starts by highlighting a hydrologist’s analysis in 1920 that found the Colorado River could not support future water demands. “No one heeded his warning,” Fleck and Udall wrote.

IEEFA report: Carbon capture project lacks investors, has an unrealistic timeframe

Enchant Energy faces “insurmountable” obstacles as it works to acquire the San Juan Generating Station and retrofit it with carbon capture technology, according to David Schissel, director of resource planning analysis for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Schissel authored a report released on Thursday looking at the lack of investors and progress on the project. He said his key message is that the project has not made much progress and that investors are “clearly skeptical.” He said there are likely insurmountable economic issues and that the community near the San Juan Generating Station should be prepared for the power plant to close, which will lead to lost jobs and lost tax revenue. The report states that Enchant Energy has failed to attract investors to fund the $1.5 billion project and is now looking for federal funding, such as low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time, the timeline to complete the project has faced delays, some of which Enchant Energy attributes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Natural Resources Committee passes bill addressing orphaned oil and gas wells

A bill that would help states plug and clean up orphaned oil and gas wells passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday on a 22 to 17 vote. The Orphaned Well Clean Up and Jobs Act is sponsored by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a Democrat from New Mexico. “Orphaned wells pose a serious threat both to our communities and our climate,” she said during her presentation to the committee. “They can leak toxic fluids into our water and pollutants into our atmosphere, including heat trapping gas, methane.”

The freshman Democrat said there are more than 700 orphaned wells in New Mexico as well as “countless more” idle wells that could become orphaned. Leger Fernández said when visiting those wells she could taste the metal in the air and see stains around the deteriorated well pads.