Legislation focused on reforms of oil and gas extraction fails to pass

This legislative session brought few changes to the oil and gas industry that provides a substantial part of the state’s budget. Going into the session, Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, introduced three bills that had the backing of environmental advocacy groups. These included creating buffer zones from future oil and gas extraction around schools and requiring […]

Legislation focused on reforms of oil and gas extraction fails to pass

This legislative session brought few changes to the oil and gas industry that provides a substantial part of the state’s budget.

Going into the session, Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, introduced three bills that had the backing of environmental advocacy groups. These included creating buffer zones from future oil and gas extraction around schools and requiring that existing wells near schools be closed and remediated, increasing penalties for companies when spills occur and requiring communities to be notified, and prohibiting the use of freshwater in oil and gas extraction when produced water or recycled water can be used.

However, this was a 30-day session, which means the bills that are discussed have a limited scope. Bills that are not related to the budget are deemed not germane unless they are dealing with topics that the governor has said can be debated.

Sariñana’s bills were deemed not germane; however one of the bills—the buffer zones around schools—was initially integrated into a governor-backed bill—HB 133—that would have changed the Oil and Gas Act.

When that was removed from the bill, it lost the support from several environmental advocacy groups including the Center for Biological Diversity.

HB 133 ultimately stalled in the House of Representatives. After passing two committees, it never received debate on the House floor.

For some advocates, the legislative session showed the power of the oil and gas industry and the hesitation of lawmakers—particularly the governor—to push forward legislation that could curb the booming industry.

“Many frontline stakeholders, like me, were excluded from the process of reforming oil and gas legislation,” Daniel Tso with New Mexico Land, Air, Water and the Sacred said in a press release. “The governor and natural resources department capitulated to industry and removed the setbacks provision from that bill, and legislative leadership failed to champion putting health protections back in. They prioritized industry over the health and safety of children who go to school next to oil and gas wells. This means that the injustice faced by marginalized populations in our state will continue.”

After the setback proposal was removed from HB 133, Senators introduced two memorials.

The first, SM 8, would have requested that the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department evaluate setbacks based on peer-reviewed scientific research.

The second, SM 14, was a direct response to SM 8 and was sponsored by vocal fossil fuel proponent Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington. Instead of turning to peer-reviewed studies, SM 14 asked EMNRD to convene a working group of legislators and stakeholders to look into existing laws and industry operating practices and develop recommendations based on those findings about potential setbacks from schools.

While one of them—SM 8—reached the Senate floor, it was never discussed or voted on by the Senate.

The oil and gas legislation that made it farthest this session, HB 48, proposed increasing the royalty rates for premium leases on state lands. These leases are primarily in the Permian Basin. 

HB 48 passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.

However, it wasn’t just fossil fuel bills that stalled this session. 

HB 108, which would have created a local solar access fund to make it easier for governments to install solar on public buildings, wasn’t heard again after it passed its first committee early in the session.

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