New Mexico activists question governor's climate change goals amid Permian Basin oil boom

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

New Mexico’s oil and gas industry could be threatening the state’s goals at reducing pollutions and subsequent climate change, as production booms in the Permian Basin.

In 2019, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a goal for the state to reduce its carbon emissions by 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, putting the state in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

But a February study from Oil Change International suggests New Mexico continued expansion in the oil and gas sector, centered around the Permian Basin in the southeast region of the state, could make such a goal impossible.

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Since 2010, New Mexico’s oil and gas production grew by 125 percent, read the study, at about 2 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d).

Production was expected to grow, per the study, by 85 percent to 3.5 million boe/d, read the study.

In the next decade, the state was also expected to generate more than 550 million metric tons per year, the study read, equal to 141 coal plants.

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 “New Mexico cannot expect other states and countries to follow its example in reducing emissions if it continues to push an increasing amount of fossil fuel into the global market,” the study read.

“Only a managed and equitable phase-out of oil and gas production, while protecting and supporting workers and communities along the way, can achieve the governor’s commitment to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

But most of the pollution was coming from wells that haven’t been drilled yet.

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About 70 percent of future oil and gas production and about 86 of projected carbon dioxide (co2) emissions, or 478 million metric tons, were expected to be generated from oil and gas wells that have yet to be developed, per the study.

That level of co2 emissions was equal to 123 coal plants, the study read, more than 10 times Lujan Grisham’s 2030 target for emissions reductions.

“This is good news, because it means there is still time for a managed phase-out of New Mexico’s oil and gas production that could help prevent billions of tons of CO2 from reaching our atmosphere and driving catastrophic climate change,” read the report.

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But ongoing oil and gas production was still a major emitter of pollution and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), read the report.

The New Mexico oil and gas industry emitted up to 1 million tons of methane in 2017, per the study, which could rise to more than 3 million tons per year in the next decade.

Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigners with New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians said Lujan Grisham’s administration underestimated the impact of fossil fuels use in causing pollution and impacting the climate.

“The Administration has grossly misrepresented New Mexico’s climate impacts by failing to analyze the burning of New Mexico’s fossil fuels,” she said. “Unless the state reins in unchecked fracking, Governor Lujan-Grisham will be unable to meet her climate goals and New Mexico will be culpable for a climate catastrophe.”

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Seneca Johnson, a spokesperson for the Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) said the problem was nationwide, and that New Mexicans must call on their elected officials advocate for a transition away from fossil fuels in protection of the environment.

“This report affirms what we young people have known and have been saying for the last year — that we are facing a climate emergency and we need immediate action to turn the tide and protect our futures,” Johnson said.

Johnson called for the governor to declare a “climate emergency” and a moratorium on all new oil and gas drilling in New Mexico along with an expansion of renewable energies such as solar power.

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“We are calling on our elected officials to heed the warnings within this report — the current Climate Plan is wholly inadequate and completely fails to address the ticking time bomb in the room — the Permian oil and gas boom,” Johnson said.

Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy – base in Santa Fe – said the State must curb fossil fuel production despite the economic benefits to protect New Mexico’s lands and its people.

She said rural communities are hit the worst, and only a shift to 100 percent renewable energy could stop the destruction.

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“We just can’t continue the frenzied fracking even if we like the money; we can no longer ignore New Mexico’s contribution to exported emissions which are holy at odds with the Governor’s climate targets to keep us climate safe,” Nanasi said.

“This is a matter of moral and political courage.”

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