Federal lawmakers seek funds to plug orphaned oil and gas wells

Even though they aren’t actively producing oil or gas, orphaned wells can still spew climate-changing gases into the atmosphere and threaten water sources. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, said plugging these wells is an important step to protecting communities and can help put people back to work. He has teamed up with Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, to introduce the Revive Economic Growth and Reclaim Orphaned Wells Act, also called the REGROW Act, calling for $4.275 billion to clean up orphaned wells on state and private lands as well as $400 million for plugging wells on public and tribal lands. It also includes $32 million for related research, development and implementation. “New Mexico has the worst methane emissions in the country,” Luján told NM Political Report last week. 

NASA scientists have discovered a methane hotspot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin in the northwest portion of the state.

Youth activists plan protest as oil and gas industry group presents award to Lujan Grisham (Retracted)

When following up on this story after the supposed award, NM Political Report learned that Youth United for Climate Crisis Action invented the fake award as a “creative hook” according to a spokesperson for the group. The governor’s office was not aware of the non-existent award from the non-existent group. NM Political Report is retracting this story and removing links from social media. The story, as originally written, is available below for transparency. A group of activists is planning a protest for Saturday as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham receives an award from an oil and gas industry group.

Bipartisan vote spikes bill to raise oil and gas royalties

A handful of Democrats joined with Republicans at the Legislature on Friday to quash a bill that would have allowed the state to charge higher royalty rates on some oil and gas production. The first committee hearing for House Bill 398 turned into a showdown between New Mexico’s influential oil industry and a newly elected Democratic land commissioner who came to office pledging to collect a greater share of revenue from oil produced on the millions of acres her office controls. Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard argued that raising royalty rates is strictly good business for a state rich in oil and gas but that has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. But the oil and gas industry countered that it already generates a large share of the funds for New Mexico’s government through taxes and royalties. Raising royalty rates, representatives from the industry argued, would drive away business and ultimately hurt the state.

Oil price comeback brightens state revenue projections

Good news from New Mexico’s oil patch is boosting revenue growth for state government, economists said Thursday, providing a projected cash cushion of over 11 percent by the end of June for the state’s general operating fund. And so far, there is no shortage of ideas for how to spend that money — they range from additional dollars for crime prevention in Bernalillo County to state employee pay raises and the expansion of tax breaks for National Guard service to the film industry, local shopping, residential solar projects and pilot training. Gov. Susana Martinez also is hoping to reduce the gross receipts tax burden on manufacturing and service businesses by removing tax pyramiding. Economists, however, warn that the money flowing into New Mexico’s coffers from oil production is volatile — and the state is coming out of two years in which budgets were slashed because of falling revenue. That collapse was related to a fall in oil prices, as the decline brought less drilling, spawning industry layoffs and less spending by business and consumers in oil-dependent corners of the state.

Audit finds city may have violated law with water deal

A special audit of the city of Jal found government officials in the southeastern New Mexico oil patch town gave “improper billings and adjustments” of more than $660,000 between 2008 and 2016. Those billings may violate New Mexico’s anti-donation clause, State Auditor Tim Keller concluded, which bars local and state governments from making donations to private individuals. The audit comes after NM Political Report and the Jal Record reported last September that city officials gave a local rancher a $1.2 million discount on commercial water use between August 2012 and April of 2014. At the same time, the city raised water rates on other customers. Jal officials also continued selling industrial water to the the Beckham Ranch, Inc., for six months after a ban on industrial water sales went into effect.

In heart of Southwest, natural gas leaks fuel a methane menace

BLANCO, N.M. –  Most evenings, the quiet is almost intoxicating. The whoosh of the wind through the junipers, the whinny of horses in their stalls, the raspy squawking of ravens – those are the sounds Don and Jane Schreiber have grown to love on their remote Devil’s Spring Ranch. The views are mesmerizing, too. Long, lonesome ridges of khaki-colored rocks, dome-like outcrops and distant mesas rise from a sea of sage and rabbitbrush. The ranch and surrounding countryside are a surprising setting for an enduring climate change problem: a huge cloud of methane – a potent, heat-trapping gas – that is 10 times larger than the city of Chicago.

Proponents of early ed measure struggle to secure House votes

Supporters of a popular idea among Democrats — a proposed constitutional amendment that would take between $153 million and $163 million a year in the first three years from the state’s land grant endowment to expand early childhood education — are having a difficult time mustering the votes to get it through the state House of Representatives. House Joint Resolution 1 has been waiting all week to get a floor vote. Word got out Friday that the resolution once again would not be heard, even though it was the top item on the House calendar. The measure would amend the state constitution to draw less than 1 percent a year from the endowment to pay for early childhood education. The sponsors of the proposal, Democratic Reps.

Santa Fe legislators seek curbs on parcel’s redevelopment

Santa Fe is the hometown of the state’s two most powerful legislators, and they are using their collective might to try to restrict what can be developed on the downtown parcel that’s now home to Garrett’s Desert Inn and Santa Fe Bite restaurant. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth grew up in and around Santa Fe’s Historic District, so they have written Senate Bill 409 to protect it. The measure would shape redevelopment at 311 Old Santa Fe Trail. The New Mexico State Land Office acquired the 2.7 acres in a land swap. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said there is interest from developers across the country in a 60-year lease with the state to bring in retail, residential and commercial tenants.

Martinez wants Congress to repeal methane rule

Gov. Susana Martinez is urging Congress to repeal a federal rule that seeks to stop the waste of methane from oil and gas producers. Martinez sent a letter to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., outlining her opposition to the rule, which was put in place by the Bureau of Land Management during the Barack Obama administration. Martinez argued that it would mean less royalties to state and federal governments. “Rather than allowing this misguided rule to move forward, I urge you to repeal the rule and work with the Department of Interior to address the infrastructure challenges currently causing venting and flaring events to occur,” Martinez wrote. “Insufficient pipeline capacity and gas processing capacity make it difficult for producers to capture and sell as much of their product as possible.”

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Rick Perry’s Texas giveaways

Donald Trump’s selection of Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy has prompted many Democrats to question Perry’s qualifications for the position. While he governed a state rich in fossil fuels and wind energy, Perry has far less experience than President Obama’s two energy secretaries, both physicists, in the department’s primary work, such as tending the nuclear-weapons stockpile, handling nuclear waste and carrying out advanced scientific research. That’s not to mention, of course, that Perry four years ago called for doing away with the entire department. However, there’s one realm in which Perry will have plenty of preparation: doling out taxpayer money in the form of government grants to the energy industry. What often gets lost in all the talk of the Texas job boom under Perry is how much economic development strategy was driven by direct subsidies to employers who promised to relocate to the state or create jobs there.