House votes to restore Obama-era methane rules

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 229 to 191 on Friday to reinstate methane regulations implemented under President Barack Obama’s administration and rolled back by former President Donald Trump. The House’s vote comes after the U.S. Senate voted in late April in favor of the measure, which is intended to reduce the methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. A dozen House Republicans broke party lines and voted with the Democrats in favor of the resolution. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

Of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican, was the only one to vote against restoring the methane rules. Environmental advocates praise the vote

Members of the environmental advocacy community in New Mexico praised the vote.

Study finds high levels of methane emissions on Navajo Nation lands

Carol Davis, the director of the environmental advocacy group Diné CARE, recalled spending a few days camping near Counselor, New Mexico with other members of the advocacy group a few years ago and feeling sick from the emissions related to oil and gas production. “For me, being in a region where there’s just that air pollution, I seriously was getting headaches, feeling nauseous, and it’s just amazing that people have lived there for so long in an area where they’re exposed to that kind of pollution,” she said, adding that she had a panic attack that night. After researching the health impacts of emissions like methane, she said she realized the symptoms were not unusual. A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund found that 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas, consisting primarily of methane, is released into the atmosphere each year from oil and gas operations on Navajo Nation lands. EDF argues this wastes a valuable commodity leading to the loss of $1.2 million of royalties and taxes to the tribe annually.

NMED releases ozone precursor rules

Following concerns from members of the environmental community, the New Mexico Environment Department removed the exemptions from the oil and gas sector ozone precursor rule for stripper and marginal wells. The department released the ozone precursor rule Thursday and filed a petition with the Environmental Improvement Board to review it. A public hearing is anticipated this fall. If approved by the seven-member board, the rules would likely go into effect in early 2022. It is intended to work in conjunction with a methane waste rule that the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department already finalized.

Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to restore methane regulations that were instituted under President Barack Obama and rolled back under President Donald Trump. The Senate used the Congressional Review Act to push for the repeal of Trump’s rollbacks of the Environmental Protection Agency methane reduction rule. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the authority to undo agency actions that were taken within the last months of the previous administration. The House of Representatives, which has a Democratic majority, is expected to vote on the measure next month. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, was one of the leaders of the effort and a companion resolution along with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Biden’s first day: Trump’s methane rule and U.S. rejoins Paris Agreement

President Joe Biden wasted no time in starting to tackle some of the country’s most pressing climate change issues after being inaugurated on Jan. 20. One of Biden’s first acts as president was to rejoin the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, a 2015 non-binding pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions necessary to keep the planet’s warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. 

Nearly every country in the world has made the pledge to act on climate change, but Former President Donald Trump announced plans to remove the U.S. from the accord in 2017. The country was not officially able to exit the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.

Can New Mexico field enough inspectors to curb its massive methane leaks?

The oil fields of the Permian Basin in southeast New Mexico are quieter since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But that hasn’t made the job any easier for oil field inspectors. As a staff manager and inspector with the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD), Gilbert Cordero spends his days driving a truck around a region larger than Connecticut, checking for leaks in the tens of thousands of oil and gas wells, connecting pipes and storage tanks. This story originally appeared at Capital & Main and was co-published with the Santa Fe Reporter and is republished here with permission. Monica Kuehling, an OCD compliance officer in the opposite corner of the state, inspects wells in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico.

Guv’s climate-focused task force delivers progress report

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Climate Change Task Force gave an update Friday on the state’s progress in reaching Lujan Grisham’s climate change goals in its second annual report. Those goals include reducing emissions, increasing renewable energy generation and decarbonizing the transportation sector.  

Lujan Grisham said her administration’s commitment to fighting climate change has only grown stronger this year, pointing to wildfire and drought conditions. 

“We are dead set against allowing climate change to bring about the next public health crisis,” she said in a statement. 

New Mexico produces more than twice the national average of greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Those high emissions are “largely the result of our greenhouse gas-intensive oil and gas industry, which makes up a significant portion of our overall greenhouse gas emissions profile,” the report said. 

Data in the report indicates that methane emissions continue to be a problem for the state. Source: New Mexico Climate Change Task Force

Nationally, methane accounts for just 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but in New Mexico, it accounts for 35 percent. 

The report found that emissions generated from the oil and gas sector in the past few years have been greater than previously estimated, citing a recent peer-reviewed study from Colorado State University that analyzed emissions in New Mexico. The oil and gas sector generated 60 million metric tons (MMT) of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, which is nearly four times more than previously estimated based on national data, according to the study. 

The Task Force created nine interagency “Climate Action Teams” over the last year to tackle the state’s emissions problem and spearhead energy efficiency and sustainability work.

Worsening air quality in Permian Basin ‘cause for concern’

Jeremy Nichols, director of WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program, is concerned about the air people are breathing in southeastern New Mexico. Nichols tracks ozone levels in Eddy and Lea counties, the state’s top oil producing counties in the Permian Basin. In early July, a key ambient air quality monitor near Carlsbad was abruptly shut down, after a monitoring station operator noticed the A/C unit at the site wasn’t working properly and the facility was getting too hot for the electronics. Nichols is worried about the incident because the monitor in question had recorded ozone levels in that area exceeding the federal standards before it was shut off.  Now, it’s not reporting any data on air quality in the Carlsbad area. “It basically means that people are not getting any information on the quality of the air they breathe,” he said.

For Greater Chaco communities, air pollution compounds COVID-19 threat

Communities in the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico have been subjected to worsening air quality caused by oil and gas development in the region. That exposure has possibly increased the risk COVID-19 poses to Navajo families living amidst oil and gas development, according to a Harvard study. 

COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has spread quickly through the Navajo Nation since the first cases were reported in mid-March. As of April 14, the Nation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, reported 838 cases. Of those, 284 cases are in New Mexico. “We are concerned, we’re really concerned,” said Teresa Seamster, Counselor Chapter Health Committee member.

NMED discovers more potential methane emission violations

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced more possible emission violations produced by oil and gas operations around the state. The department said it acquired video footage collected by citizens using forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras documenting methane and other air contaminants. NMED believes the emissions depicted in the video footage are “potential violations of existing state permits or regulations,” the department said in a statement. RELATED: NMED issues first round of violation notices for methane emissions in Permian Basin

NMED is sending written notices to oil and gas operators about the emissions. Oil and gas producers will have 14 days to correct the issues.