State Oil Conservation Division can issue fines for spills

Soon the state’s Oil Conservation Division will have the ability to issue civil fines when oil and natural gas industry spills occur. The Oil Conservation Commission approved a final order to amend the state’s release rule during a meeting on Thursday. This unanimous vote came approximately one month after it was discussed and approved during a two-day hearing. The rule change will be printed in the New Mexico Register in August prior to taking effect. The change comes as a result of a petition filed in March by WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Division, which oversees the OCD, seeking amendments to the release rule.

Old oil fields may be ideal for carbon sequestration

When looking for places to sequester carbon, old oil fields may be a promising choice, according to a new study published in the journal Geology. Geophysicists from Stanford University analyzed the Delaware Basin – a sub-basin of the Permian Basin in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico – and found that injecting substances into older oil fields is less likely to cause earthquakes than if the substances are injected into a newer oil field. The geophysicists, No’am Dvory and Mark Zoback, noticed that the southern part of the basin had more seismic activity than the northern part, which has a long history of extraction. The seismic activity is primarily connected to salt water disposal, which occurs throughout the basin, according to Dvory. After creating models, the duo discovered that pore pressures in geologic formations in the northern part of the basin were lower.

San Juan Generating Station taken offline after cooling tower collapse

Unit one of the San Juan Generating Station was taken off line last week after a cooling tower collapsed, sources familiar with the incident told NM Political Report. The cooling tower is necessary to operate the unit and, unless it is repaired, the unit will not be able to produce power for Public Service Company of New Mexico and Tucson Electric Power. The two utilities share ownership of the unit and each receives 170 megawatts of power. No one was injured during the June 30 collapse, which came almost exactly one year before the state’s largest utility plans to end operations of the power plant. The plant was idle on the morning of July 6 and neither unit one nor unit four were producing power.

OCD has issued 23 complaints resulting in fines against oil and gas companies

The Oil Conservation Division of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department regained the ability to fine oil and gas companies that were not complying with state laws a little more than a year ago, and officials say this has paid off. Since February of 2020, the OCD has filed 23 complaints, resulting in $263,000 in penalties that go to the state’s general fund, according to a press release from EMNRD. Of those complaints, nine have been resolved. These complaints are only the formal enforcement actions that assess penalties against operators. In addition to those complaints, the OCD also issues field citations.

As water levels drop in Elephant Butte, Reclamation prepares for conditions not seen since the 1950s

Recent rains have brought some relief to Elephant Butte reservoir in southern New Mexico, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is still preparing for low levels that have not been seen since the 1950s. Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the BOR, said three decades of drought conditions where dry years have not been offset by multiple years of good precipitation have had a negative impact on reservoirs throughout the state—and Elephant Butte is no exception. Elephant Butte provides the state with a wide range of economic benefits from attracting tourists to providing farmers and ranchers with irrigation water. Located north of Truth or Consequences in Sierra County, the state’s largest reservoir stores water for southern New Mexico and Texas and is an important component of the Rio Grande Compact. As of Tuesday, the reservoir was at just 7.3 percent of capacity.

Federal court of appeals sends solar standby fee case back to lower court

The federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a lower court’s ruling on a case centered around whether a utility can charge an extra rate to customers with solar panels. 

The court remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico on Monday after judges rejected the district court’s previous ruling that it was outside of its jurisdiction and should be heard in state court rather than federal court. At the center of the decision is a  lawsuit filed by Vote Solar on behalf of Farmington business owners and residents who have solar panels. The plaintiffs argue that a standby service rider, or a fee charged to connect them to the grid, unfairly targets a small segment of utility customers and disincentivizes the adoption of solar energy. FEUS argues that the standby service rider prevented non-solar customers from subsidizing the customers with solar panels. A rate study from the City of Farmington completed prior to the implementation of the standby service rider claimed that it is needed because the city must have enough electricity available to provide it to the customers if their solar panels were to fail.

NM Department of Game and Fish considers river otter reintroduction into the Gila River

While various environmental advocacy groups are pushing for river otter reintroduction in the Gila River basin of New Mexico, biologists say this could impact several sensitive fish species that the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has been working to protect and recover. These fish once coexisted with the river otters in a natural ecosystem and Michael Robinson with Center for Biological Diversity said they could live together once again. But one of the questions that the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish must grapple with is whether the ecosystem as it is today can support both the sensitive species of fish and the otter. Tristanna Buickford, a spokesperson for the department, said there is not a timeline in place for the river otter reintroduction effort and the department is currently exploring the possibility. She said more studies will need to be done.

Revenue diversification needed as NM looks to transition away from fossil fuels

As New Mexico looks at an inevitable end to oil and gas extraction, some environmental advocates say no new leases should be issued and the United States should work to phase out fossil fuels. This would not have a huge immediate impact on the state, but could result in less revenue and fewer jobs in the future, experts say. President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, issued orders in January pausing both leasing and permitting to enable a robust review of the federal processes. The pause in permitting ended after 60 days, but the leasing pause continued until a federal judge issued a temporary injunction earlier this month. The vast majority of federal land available for leasing in New Mexico is already leased for oil and gas production, which limited the impact that the leasing moratorium had on the state. 

“It’s not as if the bottom is going to fall out because of the moratorium,” Kayley Shoup of Citizens Caring for the Future said in a Zoom call hosted by the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter this week.

House votes to restore Obama-era methane rules

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 229 to 191 on Friday to reinstate methane regulations implemented under President Barack Obama’s administration and rolled back by former President Donald Trump. The House’s vote comes after the U.S. Senate voted in late April in favor of the measure, which is intended to reduce the methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. A dozen House Republicans broke party lines and voted with the Democrats in favor of the resolution. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

Of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican, was the only one to vote against restoring the methane rules. Environmental advocates praise the vote

Members of the environmental advocacy community in New Mexico praised the vote.

Iberdrola executives named in criminal espionage investigation

Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid have informed the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission of a criminal investigation in Spain that names several executives of Avangrid’s parent company, Iberdrola. This comes as the PRC is weighing a merger case that would allow Avangrid to acquire PNM. A document filed in the merger docket on Thursday states that officials in Spain are looking into potential criminal activities connected to Iberdrola. The filing states that Spanish law does not allow government employees to provide services to private companies. However, a government employee may have provided services to 21 companies including Iberdrola.