On a chilly evening in October, Santa Fe-area residents packed into the St. Francis Auditorium for the second of what would be five public meetings held by the New Mexico Environment Department on the state’s plans for produced water. It was only a matter of minutes before attendees began interrupting the presentation with accusations of the state poisoning waterways and calls for a moratorium on fracking in the name of climate change. Residents and environmentalists alike are concerned about the state’s plan to research and eventually regulate the recycling and reuse of treated produced water, a byproduct of oil and gas extraction that contains both naturally-occurring minerals, hydrocarbons and rare earth metals, as well as chemical additives and drilling constituents that are used in hydraulic fracking. Every barrel of oil generates four to seven barrels of produced water, according to Bill Brancard, general counsel of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD).
The Environmental Protection Agency released a new interim decision allowing the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, on Thursday. The agency released its revised decision on the controversial devices after retracting the initial interim decision in August. M-44s date back to the 1970s and are used to kill coyotes and other predators that threaten livestock. The spring-loaded device is inserted into the ground, and topped with scented bait to attract carrion-feeding animals. When an animal bites down on the bait, the spring shoots a pellet of powdered sodium cyanide into the animal’s mouth.
Energy engineer and consultant David Schlissel questioned some of the claims presented by Enchant Energy and consulting firm Sargent & Lundy on the feasibility of retrofitting the San Juan Generating Station with carbon capture system technology. PNM, the majority stakeholder in the plant, plans to shutter the facility by 2022 as part of the utility’s wider goal of ending all coal-fired power generation in its portfolio by 2031. That strategy aligns with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Energy Transition Act (ETA) law, which would require 50 percent of the state’s electricity generation to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
Enchant Energy has proposed acquiring 95 percent of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station to install a carbon capture system that it says would offer a cost-effective, low-emission solution to keep the coal-fired plant open beyond 2022. Schlissel testified his concerns about the proposal before the Public Regulation Commission in response to the recent testimony of PRC staff witness Dhiraj Solomon, acting engineering bureau chief of PRC’s utility division. Solomon argued that a carbon capture system would enable the plant to operate within the emission requirements of the ETA.
Sierra Club filed Schlissel’s testimony with the PRC late last week.
Oil and gas activity in New Mexico may be exacerbating water stress in the state, according to an analysis by a liberal public policy think tank. The Center for American Progress determined that 387 of 402 leases granted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the state in the last two and a half years are located in areas that are considered by the World Resources Institute to be “extremely high” in water-stress.
Source: Center for American Progress
World Resources Institute released its global Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas earlier this year. The interactive online tool maps water stress at the national and sub-national level for countries around the world. It ranked New Mexico as an area of extreme water stress, on par with areas in the Middle East and North Africa. New Mexico is the most water-stressed state in the U.S., according to the World Resources Institute.
Sitting before the state legislature’s interim committee on radioactive and hazardous materials, Walter Bradley told lawmakers to look at a red dot on a colored map provided to each member.
“That red dot is a $20 million dairy facility that is now worth zero,” Bradley, who handles government and business affairs for Dairy Farmers of America, told committee members. “There’s no money, [the farmer] can’t sell his milk, he can’t sell his cows, he’s completely bankrupt. That dot is right next to the Cannon Air Force Base fire training facility.”
Bradley, who was Lieutenant Governor under Gary Johnson, spoke alongside Stephanie Stringer, director of New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) resource protection division, to give the interim committee an update on the PFAS contamination issues in the state before the next legislative session.
PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that can move through groundwater and biological systems. Human exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancers as well as other severe illnesses. The chemicals were used in firefighting foam in military bases across the country, including at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, until 2016. The Air Force began investigating PFAS discharges across its installations in 2015, and the chemicals were detected in 2018 in groundwater at Cannon Air Force Base, located west of Clovis and at Holloman Air Force Base, located west of Alamogordo.
The New Mexico Environment Department issued notices of violation to two oil and gas producers operating in southeastern New Mexico. Matador Production Company and Mewbourne Oil Company were both cited for violating the state’s Air Quality Control Act. NMED discovered the violations during an inspection conducted in April alongside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The violations included failure to capture emissions from storage vessels, failure to maintain pilot lights on flares, failure to comply with closed vent system requirements and failure to ensure natural gas is captured and not emitted to the atmosphere. The EPA also cited the two companies for violating the federal Clean Air Act.
A lone male wolf loped across the sandy landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert under a waning January moon in 2017, heading north. The male, known as M1425, was a member of a small population of endangered Mexican gray wolves reintroduced into Mexico in 2012. The wolf was doing exactly what male wolves should be doing: exploring the landscape in search of new habitat, food sources and possibly even a mate. M1425 spent two nights exploring the new range before turning south and heading back to familiar territory. The journey north, which took the wolf across the U.S.-Mexico border, was encouraging to researchers who tracked the animal’s peregrinations by GPS collar.
The New Mexico Environment Department and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham strongly oppose the EPA’s proposal to roll back regulations for methane and other emissions from the oil and gas industry. The EPA proposed removing some regulations covering methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from transmission and storage sources and processing and production operations. The proposed rule changes will “save the industry millions of dollars in compliance costs each year,” the EPA said, “while maintaining health and environmental regulations on oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate.”
RELATED: While state grapples with new methane rules, EPA wants to end some methane emissions limits all together
NMED Secretary James Kenney submitted comments in opposition to the proposal to the EPA Thursday night. Kenney argued the proposed rule “preempts state law while imposing significant burdens upon state environmental agencies.”
“The proposed revisions will significantly degrade air quality and adversely impact public health throughout the U.S., including the State of New Mexico,” Kenney said.
Kenny’s comments came after the EPA held a hearing on the proposal in Dallas last week. Several residents from New Mexico testified at the hearing, as did a representative of NMED.
State Engineer John D’Antonio’s ties to a desalination industry group has some environmentalists concerned about how the state is promulgating new rules to handle produced water. D’Antonio, who was appointed to the position of state engineer by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year, is listed as a director of the New Mexico Desalination Association, a 501(c)6 nonprofit “business league.” The barebones website doesn’t list its members or board of directors, but the nonprofit’s filings with the Secretary of State office indicates John D’Antonio sits on the board of directors. RELATED: As NM’s water boss, D’Antonio is back on the job
The nonprofit hosted a controversial produced water conference in Santa Fe last year, with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute and New Mexico Tech’s Petroleum Recovery Research Center. The conference drew protests from environmentalists concerned about how the wastewater from oil and gas production may be used in the future.
The state is currently gathering public and stakeholder input before developing policy and regulation around potentially using fracking wastewater, also called produced water, for use outside the oil and gas sector. Environmental groups are concerned that the process is being driven by industry interests, and could result in unsafe water being introduced to the state’s water resources.
RELATED: More questions than answers on how to reuse produced water
Given those concerns, D’Antonio’s current roles as both state engineer and board member to the association is problematic, said Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner for WildEarth Guardians.
The All Pueblo Council of Governors adopted a resolution last week opposing license applications from two private companies to transport and store nuclear waste in Lea County, New Mexico and Andrews County, Texas. The council, which represents 20 sovereign Pueblo nations of New Mexico and Texas, affirmed its commitment to protecting Pueblo natural and cultural resources from “risks associated with transport of the nation’s growing inventory of high level nuclear waste,” it said in a statement.
Holtec International and Interim Storage Partners LLC each applied for licenses with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for transporting and storing nuclear waste in New Mexico and Texas.
Holtec International applied for a 40-year license to construct and operate a multibillion-dollar complex in Lea County to house 120,000 metric tons of nuclear waste. The consolidated interim storage facility would house 8,600 metric tons of uranium initially. The uranium waste would be transported into New Mexico from nuclear generator sites across the country and housed in steel casks placed 40 feet underground. RELATED: An evolving nuclear agenda spurs plutonium pit production at LANL
Interim Storage Partners applied to build a smaller storage facility in Andrews County, Texas that would hold 40,000 metric tons of nuclear waste.
The rainbow trout has taken over much of the waterways of the West. Considered an angler’s favorite, the fish species is stocked frequently in waters across New Mexico and other western states to draw recreational fishers and the money the license fees generate. But the rainbow trout is bad news for many of the native populations of cutthroat trout across the western U.S. — including here in New Mexico, where the state and tribes are working to protect the Rio Grande cutthroat, an endangered subspecies of cutthroat trout found in Northern New Mexico. The rainbow trout tend to mate with the native cutthroats, creating a hybrid “cutbow” fish and removing some of the genetic diversity of the native cutthroat populations.
“[New Mexico Department of] Game and Fish is between a rock and a hard place with rainbow trout,” said Doug Eib, a former employee of NMDGF and of the Surface Water Quality Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department. “They depend on license sales to fund their activities, and people want to catch rainbow trout.