Coaltion focuses on fighting fossil fuels foes during Farmington summit

Hannah Grover The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — As members of the New Mexico Business Coalition met for a summit about fossil fuel opposition, protestors stood outside the gates wearing surgical masks and holding signs warning of the dangers of coal use.

Mariel Nanasi, a member of New Energy Economy, was one of these protestors.

She said the business coalition is "saying we have an extreme agenda" because of protestors' support of closing coal-fired power plants.

In the summit at Merrion Oil and Gas headquarters on Tuesday, Carla Sonntag, the president of the coalition, said the "extreme" environmentalist agenda insists on an all-or-nothing approach.

Sonntag then quoted the Bible, saying, "Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."

"It's our goal tonight to bring you the truth," Sonntag added.

A group of three panelists answered pre-drafted questions before a short question-and-answer period with the audience.

Those panelists were Ron Darnell, the senior vice president of the Public Service Company of New Mexico; Mark Mathis, a film director and author who directed a documentary about the oil and gas industry; and Thomas Mullins, the engineering manager for Synergy Operating LLC.

"There's no question that the fossil fuel industry is under attack," T. Greg Merrion, the chairman of Merrion Oil and Gas, said at the beginning of the meeting. "And it is challenging being in this business because the force that is out there trying to stop the development of fossil fuels is well funded and well organized."

The topics presented to the panelists included the future of the San Juan Generating Station, how regulations impact small oil and gas extractors like Synergy Operating LLC, and how renewable energy sources compare to fossil fuels.

Mullins said regulations on the oil and gas industry have increased since 2009. While some of those regulations have come from the industry itself, Mullins said the companies that want the regulations are generally larger companies that are facing lawsuits.

He said those regulations can be detrimental to small companies like Synergy Operating LLC.

"The concept is basically death from a thousand cuts," Mullins said.

Darnell spoke about the future of the generating station and PNM's expansion into renewable energy. He said PNM has invested nearly $5 million in renewable energy sources, including wind, solar and geothermal.

"PNM was required to add these renewables regardless of need," Darnell said.

He said those renewable energy expenses will cause an increase in utility bills for customers.

Darnell said he doesn't foresee any new coal development.

"The fight to keep what we have is absolutely intense," he said.

Darnell warned that moving away from coal would have a huge impact on the local economy, but Nanasi said people employed in the coal industry could be trained to work in other industries.

"We believe that there is a new energy economy," Nanasi said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.