Draft methane rules focus on data collection, technological solutions

The New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department released their respective draft rules targeting methane emissions and ozone precursor pollutants Monday. EMNRD Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst called the draft rules “pre-proposals” ahead of the official rulemaking process that’s slated to take place in the fall. 

“We felt it was very important for the public and the regulated community and anyone to be able to take a look at draft regulatory language side by side from our departments and give us feedback,” Cottrell Propst said during a press conference Tuesday morning. 

The draft rules are the culmination of nearly a year of work by the state’s Methane Advisory Panel, which was composed of oil and gas representatives, environmental groups and other stakeholders. Cottrell Propst said the process had been “incredibly collaborative” with stakeholders and said the two departments looked at other states’ methane rules in developing their own. 

EMNRD’s 2-phase rule

EMNRD’s proposed draft rule, which Cottrell Propst described as an umbrella regulation, would roll out in two phases. The first phase would involve data collection and “robust” reporting from oil and gas operators in the state’s two oil-producing basins. 

“We know that having accurate data is really important for establishing meaningful baselines and enforceable goals to reduce natural gas waste,” Cottrell Propst said. “Historically, the industry has not reported consistent and complete data for venting and flaring to us.

240 new cases of COVID-19, 2 deaths; Lea County reports record high

State health officials announced Sunday 240 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths related to the disease. Sunday marks the 18th day in a row that the state has reported more than 200 new cases. 

Lea County reported a record-high 35 new cases. Bernalillo reported 99 new cases for the second day in a row; Doña Ana County reported 30 new cases, while three other counties reported low double-digit increases. 

New Mexico has now had a total of 16,971 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started. The state processed 8,551 tests since Saturday, representing a 2.8 percent positivity rate. The two deaths bring the state’s death toll to 571.

280 new cases of COVID-19, 8 counties report double-digit increases

State health officials announced Saturday 280 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths related to the disease. The new cases bring the state’s total tally of COVID-19 cases to 16,736 reported since the start of the pandemic in early March. Saturday marks the 17th day in a row that the state has reported more than 200 new cases, and a whopping eight counties reported double-digit case increases. Those counties include Bernalillo (99), Doña Ana (46), San Juan (20), McKinley (19), Curry (11), Santa Fe (11), Sandoval (10) and Lea (10). The state also reported 13 new cases of COVID-19 at the New Mexico Corrections Department’s Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County. 

The state processed 8,366 tests since Friday, representing a 3.3 percent positivity rate. 

There are currently 160 individuals hospitalized with the disease, a decrease of six since Friday.

Health officials: COVID-19 is spreading among younger New Mexicans

Younger New Mexicans are now contracting COVID-19 at higher rates than earlier in the pandemic, according to the state Human Services Department Sec. David Scrase. 

The state has reported over 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the first two weeks of July, bringing the state’s total to 16,456. 

“This big surge in cases is in large part contributed to by younger folks,” Scrase said during a Friday afternoon press briefing. “Clearly, the proportion of 20-29 year olds [with COVID] has gone up.”

Source: New Mexico Health Services Department

The state doesn’t have data on mobility by age group, but Scrase said he’d bet “that people in these younger age groups where the cases are way up are traveling much more every day.”

On the other hand, cases among older New Mexicans have held steady, despite the increase in new cases reported each day. 

“I think it’s that very old people know they shouldn’t be going in anywhere, and they are staying home,” Scrase said. 

Scrase said cases have increased among children and young adults as well in recent days. 

“Kids 0-17 and young adults 18-20, that number is drifting up,” Scrase said. “It looks like it’s in the 15 percent range now, which is higher than it was last week.”

That’s a troubling development as education leaders and the state grapple with developing safe protocols for children for the upcoming school year. County surges

The state Department of Health (DOH) is now seeing cases increase each day in each region of the state and at rates that are higher than in the early days of the pandemic, which Scrase indicated is cause for concern. 

“That uptick is contributed to by virtually every region.

New Mexico joins multidistrict litigation against firefighting foam manufacturers for PFAS contamination

The state of New Mexico has joined a multidistrict litigation against the manufacturers of the aqueous film-forming foams that were used in firefighting activities across the country and in Air Force Bases in New Mexico which led to groundwater contamination. 

A U.S. judicial panel earlier this year flagged the state’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense over the contamination for inclusion in the multidistrict tort proceeding, which encompasses roughly 500 pending cases related to PFAS contamination. The litigation will be heard in a U.S. District Court in South Carolina. “That’s a recent development,” said Chris Atencio, Assistant General Counsel at the New Mexico Environment Department. “We’ve gone through that process and our case is now included in that. We’re working with our council, the Attorney General’s office and folks internally to try to evaluate the requirements of that process and how best to proceed.

With record methane emissions in Permian Basin, questions linger about necessity of the Double E pipeline

Federal regulators are in the midst of an application process for a proposed 135-mile pipeline that would transport natural gas from Eddy County to Waha, Texas. But with oil and gas prices low, renewables on the rise, and a growing methane emissions problem in the Permian Basin, critics argue building a new pipeline in today’s environment is a step in the wrong direction. 

Summit Midstream, the project developer, proposed the pipeline in 2018, when oil production in the Permian Basin was booming. Exxon Mobil acquired about 30 percent ownership of the project, while XTO Energy, which is owned by Exxon Mobil, signed on as an anchor tenant to use the majority of the pipeline’s capacity. In March, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave the project its first big greenlight when it released a draft environmental assessment that found it would have little impact on the surrounding environment and communities. 

The proposed route of the Double E pipeline. Source: Double E Pipeline

While proponents of the pipeline say it will help alleviate some of the excessive venting and flaring of natural gas that comes up with the oil in the Permian Basin, critics argue FERC failed to consider the cumulative climate impacts of the project, particularly the impact of increased methane emissions both in the Permian Basin, where the natural gas is produced, and in the “downstream” market when that natural gas is combusted. 

XTO Energy flares about 5 percent of its production, and is responsible for roughly 10 percent of statewide flaring, according to research conducted by Tom Singer, senior policy advisor at the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC).

With oil’s future uncertain, orphaned wells on public lands could become a big problem for New Mexico

To Nathalie Eddy’s eye, Loco Hills has become “a graveyard” of oil and gas development. 

Eddy is the Colorado and New Mexico field advocate at the environmental group Earthworks. Eddy works frequently in the Permian Basin, using special imaging cameras to capture methane leaks coming from oil and gas wells sites in the area. 

Loco Hills, located north of Carlsbad on the Lovington Highway, is a legacy oilfield whose landscape is now dotted with inactive wells, and a few wells still producing, stretching as far as the eye can see. Most of those defunct wells are located on state or federal public lands and they aren’t going away anytime soon. The area “offers a sobering glimpse of drilling’s irreversible damage that scars these public lands and makes the land unavailable for any future use for future generations,” Eddy told NM Political Report. 

There is concern that other parts of the Permian Basin may suffer a similar fate. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Carlsbad field office was considered the busiest in the country last year, thanks to record levels of oil and gas production in the Permian Basin.

Another 200+ rise in new coronavirus cases for New Mexico

On Thursday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced 238 new cases of COVID-19 and six new deaths related to the disease. It’s the eighth consecutive day of 200+ single day increases in cases found by the state Department of Health. New Mexico has now had a total of 14,251 COVID-19 cases. The state has seen 3,068 new cases in the last 14 days, representing a 20 percent increase. 

“The trends are frankly not going in the right direction,” Lujan Grisham said during a press briefing Thursday afternoon. “We are starting to see the kind of community spread that is creating spikes across the country and unfortunately they’re creating the same kind of spikes in New Mexico.”

The state processed 6,194 tests since Wednesday, with 3.8 percent of those tests being positive.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise: DOH reports 257 new cases and 8 related deaths

State health officials announced Friday 257 new cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths related to the disease heading into the Fourth of July weekend. The largest increases in new cases were in Bernalillo, Doña Ana and McKinley counties, three counties that have seen more new cases each day this week. Five of the eight new deaths were in McKinley County. The state also announced 11 new cases at the federal Torrance County Detention Facility. In all, five counties had double-digit rises in new cases. 

Friday’s number of new cases represent the highest single-day increase since June 5, when the state saw a record 331 new cases reported.

A river runs dry: Climate change offers opportunity to rethink water management on the Rio Grande

Albuquerque residents coping with the COVID-19 pandemic have flocked to the Rio Grande this spring and summer in droves, said John Fleck, director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico. “What we’re seeing in Albuquerque is stunning. People are in the river in ways that we’ve never seen before,” Fleck told NM Political Report. “People are out wading in the river, splashing around, playing, setting up family picnics on the emerging sand banks.”

That fun may soon come to an abrupt end. For the first time in decades, Albuquerque is facing a dry Rio Grande.