Bill to classify natural gas as renewable dies in first committee

A Republican-sponsored bill attempting to get combined cycle natural gas included in the definition of renewable energy died in its first committee on Tuesday. The bill’s lead sponsor was Rep. James Townsend of Artesia, a retired executive from a fossil fuel company. Townsend said that House Bill 96 attempted to fix a problem that is “readily apparent in New Mexico.” That problem, he said, is rolling brownouts and blackouts related to a shortage of electricity. Other sponsors include Rep. Randall Pettigrew of Lovington, Rep. Candy Spence Ezell of Roswell and Rep. Jimmy Mason of Artesia. The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted on party lines to table the bill.  

“Natural gas is not a renewable, but it works,” Townsend said in response to questions about the Energy Transition Act, which was not among the laws that would be amended to include combined cycle natural gas.

Budget proposals show record money after oil boom

The Legislative Finance Committee released its budget recommendations last Thursday. These documents are expected to be presented to the state legislature and include a policy and performance analysis, appropriation recommendations and supplemental charts and graphs

The LFC budget recommendations asks the legislature to spend $9.44 billion from the state’s general fund which is a $1.04 billion, or 12 percent, increase of fiscal year 2023 planned spending. Earlier in the week, on Jan. 10, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham released her executive budget recommendations. “Today, we have a historic opportunity for change in the state of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release.

Environmental advocates push for stringent federal methane regulations during public hearing

Environmental advocates urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt the draft methane rules that were released in November or even to strengthen these proposals during a three-day virtual public hearing this week that ended Thursday. These advocates told EPA representatives that methane emissions have both health and climate impacts that disproportionately impact people of color. Wendy Atcitty, Diné (Navajo), spoke about the impacts of methane pollution on Native communities in northwest New Mexico. “I know firsthand how harmful methane pollution for the oil and gas industry is to our health, safety, Mother Earth and Father Sky,” she said. She spoke about growing up “surrounded by the protection of our tribe’s sacred mountains” and near the San Juan River.

Federal legislation aims to permanently withdraw lands around Chaco from mineral leasing

Democratic members of the New Mexico congressional delegation once again introduced legislation today that would permanently remove areas surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park from the federal mineral leasing program. This would prevent new oil and gas leases as well as coal and uranium mining on federal lands in the 10-mile buffer zone around the park. The proposal comes as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Farmington Field Office is accepting comments on a 20-year moratorium on leasing in that area. Unlike Luján’s proposal, the withdrawal of federal lands around Chaco from the mineral leasing program is a temporary measure. In a press release, U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján said that protecting Chaco Canyon has been one of his top priorities.

Amid international climate conference, EPA announces proposal for cutting methane emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released new draft rules to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas sector on Friday during the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27. The draft rule released Friday builds upon a previous draft rule released last year. Environmental advocates say that the proposal is strong, but could be stronger. Many groups said further restrictions or elimination of routine flaring are needed. Full text of the draft rule can be found here. 

“Ozone pollution and climate impacts from methane emissions pose a serious threat to our people.

Oil company to invest $5.5 million in emission prevention following settlement

A major oil and gas producer in the Permian Basin reached a settlement with an environmental advocacy group over emissions at one of the company’s extraction facilities located near Carlsbad. WildEarth Guardians alleged that Occidental Petroleum Company subsidiaries violated Clean Air Act requirements at the Turkey Track Central Tank Battery and Gas Sales Compression Facility in Eddy County. The company agreed to install emission control technology at the Turkey Track site and will invest $5.5 million in reducing emissions at facilities in southeast New Mexico. The company also agreed to pay $500,000 in civil penalties to the U.S. Treasury and $500,000 to support air quality and public health projects in southeast New Mexico. “Today’s agreement is a major step forward for accountability to clean air and public health in New Mexico,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release.  “We’re pleased that Oxy has agreed to make these major operational changes and resolve excess emissions.

NM Environment Review: Three ways the Inflation Reduction Act could benefit fossil fuels

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A lot of news following the Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act has focused on provisions to help address climate change, like making it easier for people to purchase electric vehicles. You can read my coverage on the topic here. However, the package is not a death toll for the fossil fuel industry.

New report urges protection of cultural heritage sites like Chaco, Mesa Verde from oil and gas

A new report released this week by Archaeology Southwest and The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks calls for increased protection of cultural resources like Chaco Culture National Historical Park from oil and gas development. “To honor and protect our diverse and shared heritage, America’s national parks and monuments must be preserved and protected to the maximum extent possible. But the presence of oil and gas development on their doorstep is a stark threat to their long-term protection,” the report states. Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest, said the report is intended to give President Joe Biden’s administration input about management of sites. The groups chose five locations to focus on.

Phase one of gas waste rule wraps up, OCD launches new public portal

As the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s Oil Conservation Division reviewed gas capture data submitted by operators, the regulators noticed several companies reporting more than 100 percent gas capture, which OCD Director Adrienne Sandoval said is impossible. Phase one of the natural gas waste rule, which required data collection to gauge how much gas the operators are currently capturing, has now wrapped up and the second phase is beginning. In phase two, operators will be required to attain increasing rates of gas capture on an annual basis. 

Sandoval said the OCD sent letters to 10 companies requiring them to undergo a third-party audit and warned 74 companies to check their data after reporting more than 100 percent gas capture on either their first or second quarterly report. “That gas capture percentage is important because that is the starting point for operators as they move forward and try to meet the compliance requirements of this rule,” she said. All operators must achieve 98 percent gas capture by 2026, but some operators have farther to go to reach that target.

Environmental groups release new oil and gas threats map

In an effort to pressure President Joe Biden’s administration to enact stronger oil and gas regulations, national environmental advocacy groups have released a new map that shows where people’s health is threatened by extraction. Earthworks and FracTrack Alliance coordinated to create the map using publicly-available data and peer-reviewed science. The map is available online and people can type in their address to see how many production facilities are located within half a mile of their house. According to the map, more than 144,000 New Mexicans live within half a mile of an oil or gas production site. More than 28,000 students attend school or day care within half a mile of a site.