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.
Touting natural gas as a bridge fuel to help address global climate change, a study released by the Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative (WSTN) states that replacing coal-fired generation in several Asian countries with liquefied natural gas from Rocky Mountain states could reduce net life cycle emissions by 42 to 55 percent, which some groups dispute. Jason Sandel, the chairman of WSTN, said Rocky Mountain natural gas is a “viable fuel for a fuel switch which will have a positive impact for emissions across the globe.”
This would be done by transporting the natural gas to a facility in the Baja California region of Mexico where it would be liquefied prior to transport to Asian countries. “I see, really, more opportunities than I do challenges,” Sandel said, although he said he was not surprised by the results of the study. Sandel described the study as a “first of its kind” in terms of looking at the Rocky Mountain region. He said similar studies examined LNG from other regions, including Canada, and those studies have also shown that it could lead to reduced emissions.
A group of nine environmental organizations sent a letter to the Department of Energy secretary requesting the initiation of a multi-agency environmental impact statement looking at Enchant Energy’s proposal to retrofit the San Juan Generating Station with carbon capture technology. If an EIS is required, it would delay the project substantially, but the environmental advocates point out that similar projects have gone through the process. The carbon capture retrofit will prevent the loss of tax revenue in San Juan County and preserve jobs at the coal mine and power plant. However, critics say it is an expensive project and it is unclear who will buy the electricity if it is successful.
Related: Critics: San Juan Generating Station carbon capture proposal ‘overly optimistic’
“Enchant Energy is actively working on securing the environmental and other permits needed for the project to add carbon capture at San Juan Generating Station with the appropriate federal, state, and local agencies,” said company CEO Cindy Crane in a statement emailed to NM Political Report. “This project directly addresses the need for sustainable, reliable, low-carbon power generation necessary to meet climate change emissions goals.
Federal regulators are in the midst of an application process for a proposed 135-mile pipeline that would transport natural gas from Eddy County to Waha, Texas. But with oil and gas prices low, renewables on the rise, and a growing methane emissions problem in the Permian Basin, critics argue building a new pipeline in today’s environment is a step in the wrong direction.
Summit Midstream, the project developer, proposed the pipeline in 2018, when oil production in the Permian Basin was booming. Exxon Mobil acquired about 30 percent ownership of the project, while XTO Energy, which is owned by Exxon Mobil, signed on as an anchor tenant to use the majority of the pipeline’s capacity. In March, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave the project its first big greenlight when it released a draft environmental assessment that found it would have little impact on the surrounding environment and communities.
The proposed route of the Double E pipeline. Source: Double E Pipeline
While proponents of the pipeline say it will help alleviate some of the excessive venting and flaring of natural gas that comes up with the oil in the Permian Basin, critics argue FERC failed to consider the cumulative climate impacts of the project, particularly the impact of increased methane emissions both in the Permian Basin, where the natural gas is produced, and in the “downstream” market when that natural gas is combusted.
XTO Energy flares about 5 percent of its production, and is responsible for roughly 10 percent of statewide flaring, according to research conducted by Tom Singer, senior policy advisor at the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC).
Byachel Mabe and Ed Williams, Searchlight New Mexico |
On a Thursday in late May, Michael Trujillo sat in the slightly softened evening light and watched his three children play in the water at Lake Carlsbad Beach Park, an unexpected patch of blue in the Chihuahuan desert. With his pit bull puppy at his feet, Trujillo passed slices of pizza from a stack of three Little Caesars boxes to two men in camp chairs. All three are oilfield workers, Carlsbad natives and, unlike thousands of others in the industry, all are still employed. But that hasn’t relieved their anger at the New Mexico governor and her coronavirus shutdown orders. “She needs to open the place up and let us do what we need to do,” the 36-year-old Trujillo said.
Like a lot of people in town, Trujillo wishes Carlsbad was in Texas.
This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission. In that state, just 40 miles to the south, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t order a COVID-19 lockdown until April 2 and allowed businesses to start reopening by May 1.
The EPA’s newly proposed methane regulation revisions drew criticism from oil and gas companies and environmentalists alike and spurred some groups in New Mexico to redouble efforts to pressure state officials adopt more stringent rules for methane emissions in the state. Last week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed updates to federal air quality regulations for the oil and gas industry that would remove limits on methane emissions from production and processing operations and would remove regulations all together for methane emissions coming from transmission and storage sources of oil and gas production. The proposed rule changes will “save the industry millions of dollars in compliance costs each year,” the EPA said, “while maintaining health and environmental regulations on oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate.”
“EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15%. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall described the proposed changes as a “backwards move in face of climate crisis,” in a statement released last week.
“EPA’s decision today is an affront to New Mexicans and people across this country who have a right to clean air.
Doña Ana County commissioners gave a federal agency the green light to use lethal sodium cyanide bombs to combat livestock predation. County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an amended contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to continue use of the devices, despite an outpouring of opposition from local environmentalists. “It’s pretty shocking,” said Amanda Munro, communications director for the Southwest Environmental Center and a resident of Las Cruces. “I’m very disappointed in the commissioners who voted to instate this next amendment.”
Southwest Environmental Center and other groups have been fighting the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, in Doña Ana county. Environmentalists have argued that the devices are inhumane and that the use of lethal measures to combat predation are based on outdated science.
The EPA will allow a controversial federal agency to continue using lethal sodium cyanide bombs to kill predators that threaten livestock. The EPA issued an interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide bombs under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June. UPDATE: EPA Administrator retracts sodium cyanide decision
This story continues as originally written below. Wildlife Services, a secretive agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), uses the devices for what it refers to as wildlife damage management services. Wildlife Services contracts with local government to provide services aimed at reducing livestock losses by killing local predators.
The New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) Air Quality Bureau will host a hearing on Monday about proposed changes to construction permits for oil and gas facilities. The process kicked off in the summer of 2016, and the public comment period closed at the end of January. According to the department, the general construction permit codifies air protection rules for industry to “streamline the application process and to provide consistency in the oversight process.”
The issue is the latest in a line of moves that environmental groups say reverse protections for people and natural resources. Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund, said that if finalized, the changes would make New Mexico’s new oil and gas construction permits among the weakest in the United States. “This is especially egregious when you consider the methane hotspot in the San Juan Basin and the importance of that issue in New Mexico,” Goldstein said.
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.