NM’s environment secretary participates in White House Methane Summit

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney touted the state’s efforts to curb emissions from oil and gas during the first-ever White House Methane Summit this week in Washington D.C.

During the event, federal officials announced the creation of a new White House Methane Task Force. They also spoke about the need to drastically reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industries, which could have benefits beyond climate change mitigation. Oil and gas emissions contribute to health problems in frontline communities. Meanwhile, officials say, efforts to reduce emissions can create jobs with high wages and can help save consumers money. Because of the efforts underway in New Mexico, including the ozone precursor prevention rules that NMED adopted last year, the White House invited Kenney to participate in a panel during the summit called Building a Diverse Coalition for Rapid Response.

BLM looks to modernize, update oil and gas royalties

Oil and gas companies will pay more to drill on public lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management under a new proposed rule announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The proposed rule updates bonding requirements, royalty rates and minimum bids for leasing lands for extraction. “This proposal to update BLM’s oil and gas program aims to ensure fairness to the taxpayer and balanced, responsible development as we continue to transition to a clean energy economy,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said in a press release. “It includes common sense and needed fiscal revisions to BLM’s program, many directed by Congress.”

The primary reasons for the rulemaking are to update the framework in light of new laws modifying the federal onshore oil and gas program and to enhance the program in a manner consistent with the BLM’s multi-use and sustainable-yield mission, according to the unofficial version of the proposal. Royalty rates that oil and gas companies pay on fossil fuels extracted from federal lands are consistently lower than what the companies would pay on state lands or offshore leases. 

Bonding levels also have not increased in 60 years.

Texas-based company fined $40 million for excess emissions at NM Permian Basin facilities

State agencies fined a Texas-based oil and gas company operating in the Permian Basin more than $40 million for alleged violations of air quality regulations. Ameredev II, LLC and Ameredev Operating, LLC allegedly released “significant excess emissions of five regulated air pollutants from five facilities in Lea County,” according to a press release from the New Mexico Environment Department. NMED and the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department announced separate enforcement actions against the company on Thursday. “Ameredev is a Texas-based exploration and production company that exploited public health for profit,” Environment Secretary James Kenney said in a press release. “Ameredev’s management team have shown blatant disregard for our right to breathe clean air and now they must be held accountable.”

The NMED order requires Ameredev to “cease and desist from all excess emissions” and to obtain permits that reflect the equipment and operations at the sites.

Federal government announces funding for orphaned wells focused on public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a new round of funding to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells on Thursday. This is the second year the federal government has made funding available for the program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, better known as the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This round of funding includes $63.8 million for remediation of orphaned wells in national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and on other public lands and waters. While New Mexico is on the list of states where the National Park Service hopes to have orphaned wells plugged and remediated, it does not say how many wells in New Mexico may be addressed or how much money will be spent in the state from this round of funding. In Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest, 130 wells have been identified for plugging and remediation. 

During a press conference on Thursday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said millions of Americans live within a mile of orphaned oil or gas wells.

New Mexico getting about $7 billion from federal Investing in America push

New Mexico is expected to receive more than $7 billion for infrastructure projects that fit with President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda. These projects include infrastructure funding for various road and highway projects, making communities more resilient to climate change and clean water access statewide and private investments including those for manufacturing superconductors, producing clean energy and biomanufacturing. In New Mexico, Invest in America has dedicated $4 billion for semiconductors and electronics, $344 million for clean energy projects, $100 million for biomanufacturing, $1.3 billion for transportation investments such as roads, bridges, public transit, ports and airports, $891.3 million for provide clean water and to improve water infrastructure statewide including $57 million for lead pipe and service line replacement and $265.4 million to help “make our communities more resilient to climate change,” the website states. These projects can be viewed on invest.gov which was launched on Tuesday. The site features an interactive map noting what and where projects are located.

Lands around Chaco officially withdrawn from oil and gas leasing

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland officially withdrew lands surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park from mineral leasing on Friday morning. The withdrawal order, which has been years in the making, means that no new oil and gas leasing can occur on federal lands within 10 miles of the park for 20 years. This does not apply to Navajo allotments. 

The withdrawal has been divisive among Native communities. The Navajo Nation withdrew its support for the buffer zone earlier this year citing economic concerns. Many of the allottees who live near Chaco say that leasing their mineral rights is one of the few ways they can make money off their lands and that, even though the withdrawal does not impact their mineral rights, it would make it harder for them to lease their rights.

Lawsuit says New Mexico has failed to protect the environment, communities from oil and gas

Paul and Mary Ann Atencio sometimes hear a loud boom. This boom, they have been told, occurs when an 18-inch high pressure pipeline that runs down the road by their house is cleaned out. They aren’t told when this will occur and, when it does, they say that they can hear and smell the gaseous fumes being released. The Atencios live in a part of eastern Navajo Nation where there’s a checkerboard of land and mineral ownership. 

They have joined other Navajo community members as well as the Pueblo Action Alliance, Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians in suing the state. The plaintiffs say that New Mexico has failed in its constitutional duty to protect the environment and frontline communities from the impacts of oil and gas.

Environmental group calls on NMED to address air pollution from oil and gas

An environmental advocacy group alleges that oil and gas companies across New Mexico are violating state rules by venting large quantities of gas. 

WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney on Thursday requesting that NMED “take immediate steps to end…this illegal air pollution and penalize the companies who are so blatantly flouting public health safeguards.”

The organization analyzed venting from March 1, 2022 to March 1, 2023 and found that at least 60 facilities released levels of volatile organic compounds “to trigger legal clean air thresholds,” according to a press release. “In spite of rules adopted by the Michelle Lujan Grisham administration to limit oil and gas industry venting and protect clean air, the reality is companies are routinely ignoring and violating these rules,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in the press release. “We need action to confront and deter these violations and for the Environment Department to stop giving the oil and gas industry a free pass to pollute.” 

WildEarth Guardians alleges that companies are failing to obtain proper permits, violating the emission limits in the permits and not reporting excess emissions. The letter highlights several examples, including a company venting more than 400 pounds of volatile organic compounds per hour for four days last fall in Lea County and another company failing to report excess emissions at 10 facilities in the Lybrook and Nageezi area of San Juan County, which is near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Another company reported venting almost every day between March 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023, WildEarth Guardians states.

Conservation groups file suit over oil and gas production on federal lands

Various conservation groups, including the New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court alleging that the U.S. Department of the Interior has failed to respond to a petition for a rulemaking to phase out oil and gas extraction on public lands. The petition was filed in January 2022 by more than 360 groups and calls for federal oil and gas production to reach near zero by 2035. The groups filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.

“For our climate, we need to move beyond fossil fuels as quickly as possible and that has to start with ending oil and gas extraction on public lands,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release. “Today’s lawsuit is about compelling rational leadership from the Biden administration and enforcing the reality that we can’t frack our way to a safe climate.”

The filing states that the Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies like the Department of the Interior to “give interested parties the right to petition for the issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule” and that the law requires the agency to “conclude a matter presented to it within a reasonable time.”

In addition to WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth are listed as plaintiffs. The groups say that new extraction of fossil fuels must end immediately and existing resource extraction operations must be phased out in order to avoid more than 1.5 degrees Celsius—nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit—of warming above pre-Industrial levels.

New Mexico reports third consecutive quarter of record GRT

New Mexico’s consumer spending and oil and gas matched taxable gross receipts, or MTGR, continued growth in October through December 2022, a new report states. The New Mexico Economic Development Department released data Tuesday showing that New Mexico’s MTGR for the second quarter of FY 23 totaled $23.7 billion and was the third consecutive quarter of MTGR growth. “This is real data depicting growth in spending and in our economy,” EDD Secretary Keyes said in a news release. “New money brought into our state creates the capacity for families to spend at local businesses – and that’s good news all around.”

The largest MTGR growth came from the retail trade sector with 23 percent growth which was 2 percent higher than the two previous quarters. The monthly record high was December 2022 with $600 million in MTGR reported.