Why energy companies are drilling for a greenhouse gas in New Mexico

Trapped underground in the sandstone of northeastern New Mexico sits one of the largest naturally occurring carbon dioxide reservoirs in the nation called the Bravo Dome. 

The 1,400 square mile gas field in rural Harding and Union counties is one of a handful of its kind in the United States. They make up a small but critical piece of the nation’s oil drilling operations — one that has bipartisan support and could increase under the Biden administration. 

Most of the carbon dioxide extracted from places like the Bravo Dome is piped to oil fields where it’s injected into wells to force out the last dregs of oil in a process called enhanced oil recovery. However, carbon dioxide extraction raises scores of environmental and climate issues — including the potential for massive releases of a greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. And the companies that drill for the gas in New Mexico have questionable records when it comes to dealing with landowners. 

Why drill for CO2? Democrats and Republicans alike have supported enhanced oil recovery, or EOR, in which carbon dioxide and water are pumped into wells to help extract remaining oil to the surface.

Facing down a century-old problem on the Canadian River

HARDING COUNTY, N.M.—Descending the narrow dirt road into Mills Canyon, U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Michael Atkinson jokes that in the nineteenth century some homesteaders headed to California surely reached the rim of the Canadian River, peered down its 1,000-foot-deep canyon and decided to settle here in New Mexico. He points to a small stone building on the floodplain below and explains that in the 1880s, Melvin Mills planted thousands of fruit trees. For more than two decades, horses hauled up tons of peaches, pears, apples and cherries, as well as walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. But in 1904, a flood wiped out Mills Canyon Enterprise and now all that’s left are the stone remains of the storehouse and Mills’s home and this wagon road Atkinson twists down. That’s not the only story this floodplain tells.

Nine audits, including municipalities, show negative results

Three school districts, five municipalities and one county received audits with negative results, the State Auditor announced Monday. No state agencies received audits with either “adverse” or “disclaimer” opinions from independent auditors. The ten entities with the negative findings are placed on the State Auditor’s “At-Risk” list. “Our tax dollars are best protected when our local governments’ financial statements are up to par and can be relied upon,” State Auditor Tim Keller said in a statement. “Audits are the most standardized and useful tool we have to reduce the chances that our public funds are misused.