At the end of their useful life, every oil and gas well must be plugged to prevent future contamination as the infrastructure ages and to return the site back to its original state. For the most part, this is done by the operator. However, sometimes bankruptcies lead to wells becoming orphaned, meaning there is no operator to plug them.
Officials say these wells tend to not have had great maintenance and cleaning them up is important to protect both the environment and the health of nearby communities. Democratic Senator Ben Ray Luján says he plans to introduce legislation to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells. This comes as President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for spending $16 billion to plug abandoned wells and mines.
Following concerns from members of the environmental community, the New Mexico Environment Department removed the exemptions from the oil and gas sector ozone precursor rule for stripper and marginal wells. The department released the ozone precursor rule Thursday and filed a petition with the Environmental Improvement Board to review it. A public hearing is anticipated this fall. If approved by the seven-member board, the rules would likely go into effect in early 2022. It is intended to work in conjunction with a methane waste rule that the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department already finalized.
President Joe Biden has called for preserving 30 percent of the lands and waters in the United States by 2030 and, on Thursday, his administration released a report outlining how this could be accomplished. The report released on Thursday, called Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful 2021, states that three problems must be addressed to protect lands and waters—the disappearance of nature, climate change and inequitable access to the outdoors. The America the Beautiful report lists building more parks and outdoor spaces in areas with limited access to nature as one of the tools to reaching that goal. The America the Beautiful report released Thursday outlines eight principles:
Pursuing a collaborative and inclusive approach to conservationConserving lands and waters for the benefit of all peopleSupporting locally-led and designed conservation effortsHonoring tribal sovereignty and supporting the priorities of tribal nationsPursuing approaches that create jobs and support healthy communitiesHonoring private property rights and supporting voluntary stewardship efforts by landownersUsing science as a guideEmphasizing flexibility and adaptive approaches while building on existing tools and strategies
Greg Peters, public lands and wildlife advocate for Conservation Voters of New Mexico, said in an email to NM Political Report that state action will be needed to make the 30 percent by 2030 goal a reality. Peters said New Mexico can build on the success of landmark legislation like the Energy Transition Act, the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Division and the Outdoor Equity Fund.
Sen. Martin Heinrich said this week reinstating methane regulations that former President Donald Trump rolled back will buy time to take the next steps to addressing the climate crisis.
The Senate approved revoking the rollback of the methane regulations about a week ago and the House of Representatives, where the Democrats have the majority, will consider the measure this month. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations
Looking forward, Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, said a federal infrastructure package should have robust investments in things like transmission, which is needed to move renewable energy from one area to another. “More and more of our economy is going to be run off of electricity as opposed to combustion,” he said. “That means we have to be able to move electrons from where we have renewable energy to where that energy is consumed. We don’t have enough transmission to do that today.”
Heinrich met with NM Political Report while in Aztec, where he presented a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol to the San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas for efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
A fungus that causes the often-fatal white-nose syndrome in bats has been found in two caves in eastern New Mexico. These caves are located within the Bureau of Land Management’s Roswell Field Office in De Baca and Lincoln counties. BLM Wildlife Biologist Marikay Ramsey said New Mexico has not had any cases of white nose syndrome in bats in the past and the biologists will need to do further testing to determine if the disease is present in the state. That means euthanizing a bat and analyzing it in a lab. However, she said the fungus was found on cave walls and evidence of the disease were seen on certain bats.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, departing from designated trails can have negative impacts on the areas. Axie Navas, the director of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Division, said mountain bicycles, hikers and off-highway vehicles can all leave their tracks across the landscapes. But when the driver of an off-highway vehicle, like an ATV or dirt bike, heads off of established trails, it is much more noticeable, according to Roger Pattison, a board member of the industry group endeavOR New Mexico. Pattison has decades of experience with OHVs. He said a single person driving an OHV off of the established trail leaves obvious tracks that can result in more people following without realizing that it is not an official trail.
The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to restore methane regulations that were instituted under President Barack Obama and rolled back under President Donald Trump. The Senate used the Congressional Review Act to push for the repeal of Trump’s rollbacks of the Environmental Protection Agency methane reduction rule. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the authority to undo agency actions that were taken within the last months of the previous administration. The House of Representatives, which has a Democratic majority, is expected to vote on the measure next month. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, was one of the leaders of the effort and a companion resolution along with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
A report released Tuesday by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid includes two New Mexico transmission projects that it says could move from advanced planning to construction if certain policies are changed. The report concludes that federal policy reform is needed in three areas: permitting, financing and planning. There are 22 projects listed in the “Transmission Projects Ready to Go” report as “shovel ready.”
This includes the more-than 500-mile long SunZia line and the 240-mile long Southline. Both projects are located in southern New Mexico and Arizona. A fact sheet released by President Joe Biden’s administration today states that new financing opportunities through the U.S. Department of Energy as well as the ability to use right of ways from the U.S. Department of Transportation could help move the 22 projects identified in the report forward.
A donation of nearly 9,900 acres of land in San Miguel County for the expansion of Sabinoso Wilderness could increase access to the remote landscape. The Trust for Public Lands is in the process of donating 9,855 acres known as Cañon Ciruela to the Bureau of Land Management. Public comments regarding the transfer are being accepted through May 21. This donation would increase the size of the wilderness area by approximately 50 percent. It will also add an additional access point.
As the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish works to update its fisheries rule, a remote stream in the Gila wilderness could be opened for angling. Fishing has not been allowed in McKenna Creek in Catron County in an effort to protect a small Gila trout population. For decades, this population was believed to be one of the few remaining pure Gila trout populations. But now biologists say the trout found in McKenna Creek have hybridized with rainbow trout.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is updating its fisheries rule, which expires on March 31, 2022. The updated rule will likely remove the prohibition on angling in McKenna Creek as it is no longer needed to protect the Gila trout.
When Stephanie Garcia Richard took the office of State Land Commissioner following the 2018 elections, she had the goal of tripling renewable energy development on state lands. “We are very rapidly closing in on that goal two years later,” Garcia Richard told NM Political Report. There were 453 megawatts of renewable energy when she took office. That has more than doubled in the past couple of years and the State Land Office has inked deals for even more future projects. Angie Poss, a spokesperson for the State Land Office, said 466 megawatts have been added since Garcia Richard took office and, with the upcoming projects, the office will definitely get to the goal of tripling renewable energy on state trust land.