Study finds high share of methane emissions from low-producing oil and gas well sites

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency develops policies for methane emissions from oil and gas production, environmental advocacy groups have a new tool to back their calls for regular leak detection and repair at all sites, including those that produce limited amounts of oil and gas. Scientists with the Environmental Defense Fund published a study this week in Nature Communications that found while small-producing well sites may, individually, have relatively low emissions, when looked at as a whole, they account for a disproportionate share of methane emissions. 

While scientists from an environmental advocacy group that has actively been lobbying for stricter regulations for low-production facilities conducted the study, it was published in a peer-reviewed paper. That means other scientists evaluated the methodology used and looked for potential errors. During a press conference on Wednesday, the lead author Mark Omara explained the researchers’ methodology, which relied heavily on previously published peer-reviewed studies. Omara said the researchers defined a low-producing well site as one that produced less than 15 barrels of oil equivalent.

BLM extends comment period for Chaco mineral withdrawal

The Bureau of Land Management announced an extension to the comment period for withdrawal of federal lands around Chaco Culture National Historical Park from mineral leasing. The comment period, initially scheduled to close April 6, will now end on May 6. Additionally, the BLM has scheduled two meetings that will allow people to provide oral comments. These meetings will be from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 at San Juan College in Farmington and from 8 a.m. to noon Friday, April 29 at the National Indian Programs Training Center in Albuquerque. Related: BLM director: Comments on Chaco buffer are ‘just the beginning of the process’

The new meetings come following a request by Jerome Lucero, the former governor of Zia Pueblo and the current vice chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, during a February meeting.

Russia/Ukraine war puts pressure on governments for more wind, solar

In recent years, New Mexico has tried to move away from its historical role as an oil and gas hub, and the crisis in Ukraine could have major implications. Russia’s invasion of its neighboring country has caused oil prices to surge. Reilly White, associate professor of finance at the University of New Mexico, said depending on the length of the conflict, it also could put pressure on U.S. producers to ramp up crude-oil production. “The United States right now is the largest oil producer,” White explained. “We have about 20 percent or so of the world’s production.

NM eligible for $43.7 million to address orphaned wells

New Mexico is eligible for $43.7 million in federal funding to pay for cleaning up orphaned oil and natural gas wells. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced on Monday that $1.5 billion of funding is available to states that sent in notices of intent to apply for funding made available through a federal bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in November. “President [Joe] Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is enabling us to confront the legacy pollution and long-standing environmental injustices that for too long have plagued underrepresented communities,” Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “We must act with urgency to address the more than one hundred thousand documented orphaned wells across the country and leave no community behind. This is good for our climate, for the health [of] our communities, and for American workers.”

Related: BLM hosts roundtable discussion about federal funding for orphaned wells

The new law created a program with $4.7 billion to address orphaned wells nationwide.

New data shows massive climate-warming leaks by New Mexico oil and gas operators

In New Mexico, new state rules sparked a dramatic increase in reported incidents of vented and flared natural gas in 2021 — and reveal that the oil and gas industry has been losing vastly more of the climate-change-driving fossil fuel than previously reported. “The state’s updated reporting requirements were long overdue,” says Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund. The new numbers are in line with previous EDF research showing huge amounts of vented and flared natural gas in recent years. A review of year-end data from the state’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD) shows that producers vented or flared enough natural gas to power nearly 39,000 homes for a year — roughly the number of households in Las Cruces, the state’s second-largest city. This story originally appeared at Capital & Main and is reprinted with permission.

BLM hosts roundtable discussion about federal funding for orphaned wells

Randy Pacheco, the chief executive officer of the San Juan Basin-based A-Plus Well Service, said the state’s workforce needs to be built up to address the orphaned oil and natural gas wells that dot the landscape in many states including New Mexico. 

Pacheco was one of the panelists who participated in a roundtable-style webinar discussion about the federal orphaned well program and the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to implement it. The bureau hosted the webinar, which drew hundreds of people, on Thursday. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law in November provided $4.7 billion for clean-up, remediation and restoration at orphaned well sites. That led to the U.S. Department of the Interior releasing initial guidelines on Dec. 17 for states to apply for funding.

Interior oil and gas review met with mixed reactions

While environmental activists praise various aspects of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s newly released report on federal oil and gas leasing and permitting processes, some say the report is incomplete and fails to account for the impact fossil fuel emissions have on climate change. The department released the report to comply with an executive order President Joe Biden issued titled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” This executive order directed the Department of the Interior to review leasing and permitting processes. The report was released Friday and consists of 18 pages. 

The report includes recommendations such as raising royalty rates, charging more for rent and requiring higher levels of bonding. 

While the recommendations are supported by the environmental advocates, many of whom have been pushing for such reforms for years,  some say that the recommendations do not go far enough to address the climate crisis. “We’re sympathetic to the political gauntlet the Biden administration must run, but it had a choice to run it with power, speed, and agility. Instead, it’s running that gauntlet, weak, slow, and tentative,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, in a press release.

Labor secretary, congresswoman visit orphaned well in Kirtland

As he stood looking at an orphaned well in Kirtland, U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh asked, “is this ground dirty here?” 

Activist Don Schreiber said yes and Adrienne Sandoval, the Oil Conservation Division Director for the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, confirmed that there was surface contamination in places at the site. Sandoval said the contaminated soil will have to be removed from the site and clean soil will be brought in to replace it. Walsh visited the orphaned well with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat who has been pushing for increased funding to assist states with cleaning up orphaned wells. They, and Aztec Mayor Victor Snover, met with Schreiber and Sandoval at the private property where the well is located. Related: Federal lawmakers seek funds to plug orphaned oil and gas wells

The site is one of the hundreds of oil and gas wells in New Mexico that has no operator or responsible party to clean it up.

The stench of climate change

“Oh my gosh. It is just cranking.”

Nathalie Eddy, a field advocate for Earthworks, the environmental monitoring group, is sitting in her Jeep next to an oil well southwest of Loving, New Mexico, in the Permian Basin. A tangle of well pumping equipment is on one side of the quarter-acre pad. Ten yards away are eight storage tanks, each about the size of a Greyhound bus standing on end. She’s aiming her camera at the top of one of those tanks.

Report documents PFAS use in fracking in New Mexico

A report indicating that PFAS chemicals have been used in hydraulic fracturing operations in New Mexico “emphasizes how important it is for regulators to know what is in the industrial wastewater,” Maddy Hayden, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Environment Department told NM Political Report in an email. Physicians for Social Responsibility released a report this week that found PFAS chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or chemicals that could break down into PFAS have been used in fracking operations in 1,200 wells in half a dozen states, including New Mexico. PFAS chemicals have a broad range of applications and can be found in household objects including non-stick cookware. In recent years, there has been growing concern about the potential health impacts of these “forever chemicals,” which do not break down under normal environmental conditions. “Ongoing research into uses of PFAS and the prevalence of these persistent chemicals in the environment is essential to support strong regulatory responses at the federal and state levels,” Hayden said.