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.

When oil and gas wells stop producing, environmental impacts remain

Throughout New Mexico, there are thousands of oil and gas wells that have not produced in years but remain unplugged. One area with a high concentration of these sites is the Horseshoe Gallup field, located in the Hogback area west of the San Juan Generating Station in San Juan County. Environmental advocates have identified hundreds of wells, as well as associated infrastructure, in this field that have not produced in years. Some of these sites are contributing to environmental degradation. This includes leaking methane from a separator tank, overflowing tanks leading to puddles of thick black liquid on the ground and leaking chemicals from containers.

NM eligible for $43.7 million to address orphaned wells

New Mexico is eligible for $43.7 million in federal funding to pay for cleaning up orphaned oil and natural gas wells. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced on Monday that $1.5 billion of funding is available to states that sent in notices of intent to apply for funding made available through a federal bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in November. “President [Joe] Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is enabling us to confront the legacy pollution and long-standing environmental injustices that for too long have plagued underrepresented communities,” Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “We must act with urgency to address the more than one hundred thousand documented orphaned wells across the country and leave no community behind. This is good for our climate, for the health [of] our communities, and for American workers.”

Related: BLM hosts roundtable discussion about federal funding for orphaned wells

The new law created a program with $4.7 billion to address orphaned wells nationwide.

Haaland visits Chaco Culture National Historical Park

As the U.S. Department of the Interior begins the process of placing a 20-year moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands near Chaco Canyon, some nearby Indian allottees say that such an action would limit their ability to make a living off of their land. Meanwhile, proponents of the moratorium say it is needed to protect the sacred sites, lands and waters. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland drove by signs protesting the moratorium as she headed to Chaco Culture National Historical Park to celebrate President Joe Biden’s announcement of the moratorium impacting federal lands within a ten mile buffer of the park. While at the park, Haaland met with Indigenous and state leaders before addressing the crowd that had gathered for, what she described as, a celebration that was decades in the making. Haaland said Chaco Canyon is a living landscape.

Interior begins process to end new oil and gas leasing near Chaco for 20 years

President Joe Biden’s administration took steps today to begin the process of banning new oil and gas leases within a 10 mile buffer zone of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for 20 years. Monday, the president announced a series of initiatives focused on Indigenous communities, including the Chaco Canyon buffer zone. This came during the Tribal Nations Summit. The president instructed the U.S. Department of the Interior to initiate the process for withdrawing the area around the park from new oil and gas leasing for two decades. Over the last decade, Native American groups in both Arizona and New Mexico have been lobbying for protections of the sacred Chaco region from oil and gas development, leading to several congressional actions that temporarily deferred leasing.

Activists are hopeful that EPA proposed methane regulations will reduce emissions

Kendra Pinto, a resident of Navajo Nation, was using an infrared camera to check for emissions earlier this year when she discovered methane leaking from under the ground due to a leak at a well site. Pinto said she reported the leak and, to her knowledge, the well site was shut in and excavated to inspect for the leak. She said such instances are not uncommon at oil and gas sites near her home in northwest New Mexico. Activists like Pinto, who works as a Four Corners Indigenous community field advocate for Earthworks, hope new federal methane regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and will also cut down on the air pollution impacting nearby communities’ health. “Emissions happen on leased land, but the air does not conform to those square boxes,” she said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Ozone precursor pollutants hearing kicks off with NMED, park service witnesses

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board kicked off a hearing about the ozone precursor pollutants rule on Monday with opening statements from the New Mexico Environment Department, environmental advocacy groups and industry groups. The hearing is anticipated to take two weeks and public comments are being accepted at multiple times each day during the process. Additionally, recordings of the hearing will be posted on YouTube. The EIB will not vote on the rule until after the parties have filed post-hearing briefs and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The hearing examiner will also file her report prior to the EIB voting on the measure.

Environmental Improvement Board prepares to hear ozone precursor pollutants rule

With just days left before a public hearing of the ozone precursor pollutants rule, changes are still being made to the proposal that the New Mexico Environment Department plans to present to the board. The Environmental Improvement Board’s public hearing begins at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 20. Among the changes has been a back and forth regarding inspections for wells that only have the potential to emit small amounts of pollutants. The ozone precursor pollutant rule is intended to address emissions of oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas infrastructure.