Groups worry about oil and gas emissions as state regulators scale back some enforcement operations during outbreak

New Mexico’s environment and energy regulators have scaled back some of their regulatory enforcement operations to comply with the state’s public health order limiting social contact and workplace operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s public health order deemed oil and gas operations essential, and extraction activities have continued in both the Permian Basin and in the Four Corners region. That’s worried some residents and environmental advocates, who are concerned that the state may not be able to fully enforce environmental laws. New Mexico Environment Department spokesperson Maddy Hayden said NMED is focused on “critical activities related to protecting New Mexico’s food and drinking water supplies, proper management and disposal of infectious waste and minimizing occupational risk to COVID-19.”

“Our compliance staff will continue to conduct investigations which pose an imminent or substantial endangerment threat to public health or the environment,” Hayden said in an email. “Routine inspections of permitted and licensed facilities will otherwise remain a low priority during this time.”

Oil and gas operations are of particular concern for communities in New Mexico’s energy-producing regions.

Conservatives: Methane rollback not aligned with conservative values

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship has launched a media blitz arguing the Trump administration’s plan to roll back a waste-prevention rule on methane is not consistent with conservative principles. The Obama-era rule was designed to prevent energy waste, ensure a fair return on royalties, and improve air quality. It was set to take effect earlier this year, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said it was a burden on the industry and called for it to be eliminated. David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. He said he wants New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce to stop supporting the rollback.

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.

BLM finalizes rule to limit methane emissions

The United States Bureau of Land Management announced this week a final rule aimed at limiting methane flaring at oil and gas wells. The rule, which requires oil and gas producers to limit the amount of methane released into the atmosphere, is set to be enforced gradually. In a press release, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the rule is also an effort to update regulations to mirror available technology. “Not only will we save more natural gas to power our nation, but we will modernize decades-old standards to keep pace with industry and to ensure a fair return to the American taxpayers for use of a valuable resource that belongs to all of us,” Jewell said. New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has long opposed the BLM rule, citing the difficulty of oil and gas companies getting access to federal land in order to capture the excess methane.