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.

Governor petitions EPA to list PFAS as hazardous waste

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, to list per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, as hazardous waste under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. “PFAS chemicals present an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment,” she wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan. This letter was included with the petition and is dated June 23. “In the absence of a federal framework, states continue to create a patchwork of regulatory standards for PFAS across the U.S. to address these hazardous chemicals. This leads to inequity in public health and environmental protections,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release.

BLM releases draft environmental assessment for potash mine clay settlement facility

The federal Bureau of Land Management has released a draft environmental assessment regarding Mosaic Potash Carlsbad’s plans to use a nearly 1,000 acre natural playa as a clay settlement facility. The playa, known as Laguna Uno, has previously been used by the mine and, if approved, the mining company will use it as a secondary clay settling pond to reduce the amount of clay in the water that is discharged into an area known as Laguna Grande. A 30-day comment period began Monday on the draft environmental assessment and will remain open through July 23. The draft environmental assessment’s proposed action would allow Mosaic to use Laguno Uno as an additional clay settling pond. BLM considered other locations as well as the no action alternative, which would result in the application being denied.

New Mexicans weigh in on methane as EPA considers new rules

Dozens of New Mexicans issued warnings about the current and future impacts of climate change this week as they urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt a new rule that would lead to significant methane emission reductions from the oil and gas sector. The comments happened as part of three days of public comment sessions as the EPA works on a new rule to address methane emissions from oil and gas. While the EPA hosted meetings to collect public comments, people can also submit comments online through June 30 at regulations.gov.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and emissions from oil and gas extraction have been linked to various health conditions ranging from asthma to cancer. Many of the commenters asked for a reduction in methane emissions by at least 65 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. Related: Biden’s first day: Trump’s methane rule and U.S. rejoins Paris Agreement

Albuquerque-resident David Robertson, who identified himself as a retired engineer and a member of the climate advocacy group New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said the target can be met with existing technology at an affordable price.

EMNRD launches interactive climate change map

The state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department launched an interactive map that will help New Mexicans see how climate change is anticipated to impact their communities. The department  created the map in collaboration with The University of New Mexico’s Earth Data Analysis Center. In addition to showing how climate change can impact heat, precipitation, wildfires and flooding, the map shows how socioeconomic factors can contribute to the overall climate risk of an area. “This administration is committed to acting on climate and promoting transparency,” EMNRD Cabinet Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst said in a press release. “The Climate Risk Map speaks to both of these priorities by providing illuminating data in a user-friendly way that will give communities resources to address areas that could be most at risk.”

A 23-page user guide includes visualizations to help people navigate the free tool.

PRC says community solar projects cannot be approved until rules are completed

While the Community Solar Act does not go into effect until June 18, investor-owned utilities have been receiving applications, and at least one of the utilities has expressed uncertainty about how to process such applications because rules regarding such projects will not be completed until next year. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, which is tasked with regulating utilities and community solar programs, has until April 1, 2022, to issue the final order adopting rules for community solar projects. Citing the uncertainty that utilities are facing with the applications, the PRC is issuing a notice to the state’s three investor-owned utilities explaining that the current interconnection rules will remain in place until the commission rules otherwise and that community solar project applications that have been received will not receive any priority consideration. “Neither the utilities nor the applicants are certain as to what the pending rulemaking means in regards to the status of those applications,” said PRC General Counsel Russel Fisk during the meeting on June 15. A community solar array is a small facility with at least 10 subscribers who receive at least a portion of their electricity from the array.

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.

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.