Some energy transition funding project proposals include fossil fuels

As the northwest corner of New Mexico prepares for the closure of the San Juan Generating Station, at least one proposed project to help displaced workers could lead to increased natural gas extraction. Last year, the Energy Transition Act committee sent out a request for information on projects that could be funded through the portions of bonds that could be set aside for economic diversification, workforce training and assisting the Navajo Nation. This resulted in more than two dozen proposals, however the funding is not yet available due to a lawsuit that has postponed the sale of low-interest bonds. 

The lawsuit in the New Mexico Supreme Court argues that shareholders should bear more of the costs of closing the power plant instead of ratepayers, who currently will pay for the bonds through a non-bypassable charge on their bills. The bonds will be sold by Public Service Company of New Mexico, the primary owner of the San Juan Generating Station, and will use $360 million of bonds to refinance past investments into the power plant and about $20 million of that money will be used to assist the communities impacted by the closure. 

Jason Sandel, a convener for the ETA committee, said there will be a meeting this summer to discuss the proposed projects. A full list of projects submitted for funding consideration and details about each of the projects can be found at dws.nm.state.us/ETA.

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.

New Mexico’s fight to escape the grasp of Big Oil and Gas

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez quickly learned the harsh reality of New Mexico politics after she was appointed to fill an empty seat in the state senate two years ago. One of the first bills she pushed sought a four-year pause on new fracking permits on state lands, taking that time to study the environmental, health and safety impacts of the controversial oil and gas drilling technique. Sedillo Lopez believed it was a sensible piece of legislation, one that was tempered and looked out for New Mexicans. But almost right away, the bill died,never getting out of committee. The same thing happened to a similar measure she pushed earlier this year, with support from dozens of environmental and Indigenous organizations.

Officials say plugging orphaned wells protects public health and environment

At the end of their useful life, every oil and gas well must be plugged to prevent future contamination as the infrastructure ages and to return the site back to its original state. For the most part, this is done by the operator. However, sometimes bankruptcies lead to wells becoming orphaned, meaning there is no operator to plug them. 

Officials say these wells tend to not have had great maintenance and cleaning them up is important to protect both the environment and the health of nearby communities. Democratic Senator Ben Ray Luján says he plans to introduce legislation to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells. This comes as President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for spending $16 billion to plug abandoned wells and mines.

NM’s short-term economic forecast improves over last projections

New Mexico’s financial outlook has improved yet again. While revenues are still expected to fall in the fiscal year that begins July 1, the drop won’t be as bad as predicted in December. General fund recurring revenue for the upcoming fiscal year is now estimated to decline by 8.5 percent, an improvement over the 10.9 percent drop forecast just two months ago, according to updated revenue projections presented Wednesday to the Senate Finance Committee. “The [fiscal year 2022] general fund recurring revenue is forecasted to grow by 4.9 percent compared to [fiscal year 2021], so the good news is … that there’s $339 million of new money,” Debbie Romero, acting secretary of the state Department of Finance and Administration, told the committee.

No immediate impact from impact of moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land

The state of New Mexico is expected to take a major financial hit under executive orders issued by President Joe Biden to fight climate change, including a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. But the impact may not be felt right away. After a presentation Tuesday by a chief economist and other state officials, as well as representatives from the oil and gas industry, the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said the budget for the upcoming fiscal year will see little, if any, impact. “But in the next years, you will see a great decline,” said Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. “So as [lawmakers file requests for] recurring money or send bills to us, be prepared to look to the future and what that looks like because if we add additional money and recurring money, cutting will not be any fun at all.”

New Mexico families in oil and gas ‘waste zone’ seek help

Cora Gonzales was in her room on Jan. 4 when she heard her father yell. In the evenings he watches TV while sitting by the living room window, and that’s where she found him, looking outside and not at the tube. The rest of the family quickly joined them and they stared through the picture window as flames shot into the night sky from a nearby well pad. This particular fire was uncommon.

New Mexican economists warn: Change course now

Later this month, New Mexico lawmakers will have another chance to fix an economic problem that has plagued the state for decades. “For at least 40 years people in the state government and the Legislature have known that they are overly dependent on oil and gas for state revenue,” says Jim Peach, regents professor of economics at New Mexico State University. Right now, more than 40 percent of the state’s income relies on the boom-and-bust fortunes of oil and gas. Now, according to a trio of New Mexico’s leading economists, the time has come to change course. This story was first published at Capital and Main and is republished here with permission.

Bill would halt new fracking permits while state conducts impact studies

State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, plans to introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session that would enact a four-year pause on fracking permits while studies are conducted to determine the impacts of fracking on agriculture, environment and water resources and public health. 

The bill directs state agencies and departments, including the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the New Mexico Environment Department, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture to study and report annually to the governor and the relevant legislative committees on the impacts of fracking on the respective sectors. 

“It’s not a moratorium on fracking or banning fracking altogether. It is simply a pause on issuing new permits for four years,” Sedillo Lopez told NM Political Report. 

“The bill requires agencies to study the issue of fracking, and to give recommendations to the legislature for legislation and rules that would be appropriate to deal with the consequences of fracking on our air, our land, our water, and our health,” she said. 

The 2021 session will be the third time state legislators will consider the bill, which failed to get on the call during the last 30-day session in January 2020. In even-numbered years, only budget bills and bills on topics chosen by the governor can be discussed by the Legislature. The 2021 version of the bill hasn’t been prefiled. 

RELATED: State environmental regulators face thinner budgets amid pandemic and oil slump

In past legislative sessions, the bill has received pushback from Republicans and legislators representing districts in the state’s two energy-producing zones. A fiscal impact report on the bill from 2019 estimated the state would lose $3.5 billion by halting new fracking permits for four years, but an updated analysis is needed to better predict the possible fiscal implications moving forward. 

Sedillo Lopez said that the bill has support among many environmental groups and concerned residents, but added that she was surprised at the opposition it has received among other groups. 

“The reaction was actually stunning.

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.