New Mexico cracking down on oil and gas methane waste, Heinrich and Udall call for action

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

The State of New Mexico is starting to crack down on natural gas waste from the oil and gas industry, as it begins engaging with oil companies and local agencies on stricter regulations to prevent methane emissions.

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) announced the beginning of stakeholder outreach efforts, planning public meetings in Carlsbad, Farmington and Albuquerque this summer.

The efforts were spurred by an executive order signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in January – weeks after she took office – which called on the state to join the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

More:Data: Venting and flaring at 'all-time high' in Permian basin as oil and gas booms

The order also called on state agencies to develop regulations and policies to reduce emissions.

President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement last year, but multiple states opted to rejoin individually.

Lujan Grisham’s executive order also created New Mexico’s Climate Change Task Force headed up by NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney and EMNRD Cabinet Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst.

More:Q&A: Oil Conservation Division Director outlines plans for regulating oil and gas in state

When are the meetings?

  • Farmington: 1 to 5 p.m., July 29 at San Juan Community College
  • Albuquerque: 1 to 5 p.m., July 30 at the University of New Mexico School of Law
  • Carlsbad: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Aug. 7 at the Skeen Whitlock Building

Collaboration is ‘essential’

Kenney said collaboration between different stakeholders and State government is essential to achieving the demands made by the order.

“In undertaking this regulatory effort, collaboration between regulators, communities, industry and environmental groups is imperative to enacting lasting changes to methane regulations in New Mexico,” he said.

“EMNRD Secretary Cottrell Propst and I look forward to meeting with stakeholders to gain ideas, perspectives, concerns and innovative ideas throughout this regulatory effort.”

More:Lawsuit looks to overturn oil and gas leases in southeast New Mexico

Propst said she looked forward to creating progressive rules and regulations to fight oil and gas’ impact on climate change, while drafting guidelines using input from experts in the field.

New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney (center) speaks with the U.S. Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary of Environmental Management Anne White and others during a dinner to celebrate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, April 23, 2019 at the Pecos River Village Conference Center.

“The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department looks forward to kicking off our stakeholder engagement in the coming weeks as we continue our important partnership with the New Mexico Environment Department to develop rules to curb methane,” she said.

“Our departments will create cutting-edge rules and regulations pursuant to the climate executive order. Collaborating with stakeholders and gaining expert insights is a crucial step in this process.”

More:Oil and gas spills up in New Mexico, as production continues to grow

The meetings were intended to give attendees an overview of NMED and EMNRD’s roles in regulating methane in the oil and gas industry, as both agencies will enact their own regulations.

EMNRD will host a meeting before it’s Oil Conservation Division, the agency that issue permits and enforces compliance while NMED will present with its Environmental Improvement Board which regulates air quality and environmental impacts.

The two agencies will work collaboratively to ensure regulations are not duplicative, read a news release from NMED.

Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) applauded New Mexico’s efforts.

He said tougher state laws to curtail emissions will better protect the health and safety of New Mexicans.

More:Complaint against oil and gas lease sale alleges 'lack' of waste prevention measures

In 2014, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found one of the largest methane clouds in the country above the Farmington area in northwest New Mexico and state researchers identified the Permian Basin area in the southeast as another hot spot earlier this year.

Both corners of the state are known for heavy oil and gas development.

Such pollution can contribute to climate change and threaten health impacts such as asthma and cancer.

More:Navajo Refinery to be expanded, oil and gas landfills going in across the Permian Basin

Goldstein also said methane waste damages New Mexico’s economy, citing EDF research that showed oil and gas companies waste up to $275 million in natural gas each year, costing the State $40 million in lost royalties and tax revenue.

“Governor Lujan Grisham is fulfilling her campaign promise to protect New Mexico’s children and families from oil and gas pollution and to crack down on the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of natural gas each year,” he said.

“Strong, enforceable methane standards will protect the health and well-being of future generations of New Mexicans and ensure oil and gas companies don’t waste a resource that costs New Mexico’s schools tens of millions per year in lost tax and royalty revenue.”

More:Waste to water: Oil and gas industry looks to mitigate water waste during boom time

Federal lawmakers demand action

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) joined 43 other senators in introducing a bill in the Senate to demand the Trump administration rejoin the Paris Agreement and abide by the standards developed by the U.S. and 200 other nations.

The International Climate Accountability Act would block Trump from using U.S. funds to withdraw from the Agreement and direct the administration to meet its previous commitments.

More:New Mexico State Land Office: revenue driven by oil and gas, other industries to grow

A companion bill was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, introduced by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL).

The bills were also intended to “make clear” that the Paris Agreement is “critical” to increasing global collaboration to fight pollution, read a joint news release from Udall and Heinrich, while protecting U.S. economic interests.


Udall criticized Trump for ignoring the threat of climate change and called on Congress and American businesses to take it upon themselves to address the issue.

“The climate crisis is a global crisis and it requires forceful global action,” Udall said. “President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement was a complete abdication of moral and global leadership. With his decision, he turned his back on New Mexicans, who are right in the bull’s eye of climate change and undermined our ability to successfully confront this crisis head on in concert with other nations.

“In the face of this administration’s tragic failure of leadership, it falls to Congress, states, businesses and communities to act. We must move forward with renewed purpose to quickly reduce emissions, protect our planet, and ensure a promising future for generations to come.”

More:Study: Methane emissions flat nationwide, slight increase from oil and gas

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) chats with attendees at a dinner to honor the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, April 23, 2019 at the Pecos River Village Conference Center.

Heinrich said Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Agreement weakened its position among other nations as a global leader, and increasingly extreme weather resulting from climate change is already becoming too expensive for the U.S.

“President Trump’s inward looking, isolationist vision for America represents a dangerous abdication of our nation’s leadership role,” Heinrich said. “Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement deeply damages the credibility of this nation on the international stage and put us on a path toward very real, costly climate disruptions in New Mexico and around the world.

“The time is now to act on climate change. I am proud to join my colleagues on the International Climate Accountability Act and reclaim America’s leadership as responsible stewards of this earth.”

Read the The International Climate Accountability Act:

More government news:

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham vows to collaborate with oil and gas during boom

Republicans prepare to challenge Xochitl Torres Small for Congress in 2020

New Mexico commits millions to rural roads, vows to work with oil and gas industry on repairs

Energy bills signed into law by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

Udall challenges Zinke on drilling near Carlsbad Caverns, public input on lease sales

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.