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.

Eunice Gas Plant to shutter as part of settlement agreement

The Eunice Gas Plant will be shutting down as part of a settlement between the plant’s owner, DCP Operating Company and the New Mexico Environment Department. NMED alleges DCP illegally emitted almost 3.8 million tons of pollutants from May 2017 through June 2019 at various facilities including the Eunice Gas Plant, where 131 excess emissions events occurred between May 1, 2017 and Aug. 16, 2018. According to an NMED press release, the Eunice Gas Plant was the highest source of emissions. In an emailed statement, DCP said the Eunice plant is “an older vintage facility” that includes the company’s last sulfur recovery unit in New Mexico.

Labor secretary, congresswoman visit orphaned well in Kirtland

As he stood looking at an orphaned well in Kirtland, U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh asked, “is this ground dirty here?” 

Activist Don Schreiber said yes and Adrienne Sandoval, the Oil Conservation Division Director for the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, confirmed that there was surface contamination in places at the site. Sandoval said the contaminated soil will have to be removed from the site and clean soil will be brought in to replace it. Walsh visited the orphaned well with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat who has been pushing for increased funding to assist states with cleaning up orphaned wells. They, and Aztec Mayor Victor Snover, met with Schreiber and Sandoval at the private property where the well is located. Related: Federal lawmakers seek funds to plug orphaned oil and gas wells

The site is one of the hundreds of oil and gas wells in New Mexico that has no operator or responsible party to clean it up.

Archaeology Southwest report finds lack of tribal consultation in oil and gas leasing

Oil and gas development on federal lands has prioritized development over protection of cultural sites and has occurred with inadequate tribal consultation, according to a new report authored by Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest. During a press conference on Tuesday, Reed said that needs to change. 

Reed said Archaeology Southwest began a review of oil and gas leasing policies and approaches as President Joe Biden’s administration took office earlier this year. “The goal of our review was to identify problems and issues that need to be addressed,” he said. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Interior is also reviewing its oil and gas leasing program. Reed said Archaeology Southwest is “optimistic that many of the issues that we’ve raised in our report will be addressed in that review as well.”

He said that the Archaeology Southwest report reached two primary conclusions: that the oil and gas leasing program “prioritizes the use of public lands for mineral extraction at the expense of protecting cultural resources and landscapes” and that the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies are failing to consult Native American tribes.

Northwest New Mexico seeks to become hydrogen hub

The United States and countries around the world are eyeing hydrogen as a source of clean, dispatchable power, but work is still needed to get to that point, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told NM Political Report while touring a facility in Farmington that manufactures blue hydrogen reactors. Farmington-based Process Equipment Servicing Company, better known as PESCO, and Albuquerque-based BayoTech are working together to create the blue hydrogen reactors using technology initially developed by Sandia National Laboratories. BayoTech hopes to deploy the first fleet of compact, mobile hydrogen generators later this year. Blue hydrogen uses methane derived from natural gas and splits the carbon from the hydrogen. 

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, visited the PESCO facility with Granholm on Thursday as part of an energy transition tour following the Senate passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes funding for hydrogen projects, including at least four regional clean hydrogen hubs. 

Related: Five ways the federal infrastructure bill could benefit New Mexico projects

San Juan County leaders told Granholm that they hope the northwest region of New Mexico will be chosen as the site for one of these hubs. San Juan County Commission Chairman John Beckstead said the county would like to become not only a hub for the hydrogen industry, but also a center of excellence for hydrogen in the United States.