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'Make sure it happens for our sake over here.' Residents encourage regulating methane

The meeting in Counselor follows other meetings in Farmington, Albuquerque and Carlsbad

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
  • When developed, the state's methane rule will not be applicable on tribal lands.
  • Torreon resident Cheyenne Antonio asked about how the rules will be enforced once developed.

COUNSELOR — Bernice Sage called on two state departments tasked with developing rules for controlling methane pollution from oil and natural gas production to follow-through.

Sage was among dozens of people who attended a meeting with the New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department on Aug. 12 focused on developing regulations for methane emissions. 

Sage told officials from the two department that she wants them to complete their work because she sees the industry's impact on communities.

Bernice Sage, left, address officials from the New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department during a methane emissions meeting on Aug. 12 at the Counselor Chapter house.

The majority of the people who spoke during the meeting supported regulating methane emissions from oil and natural gas sites.

Sage said she travels within six chapters in the Eastern Agency for her work, and she can smell gas and see flames from venting and flaring activities when she drives in the area.

"I see them a lot," she said about the flares.

She also told offices that community members are diagnosed with cancer at higher rates, children use inhalers due to asthma and trees, sagebrush and grasses are drying because there is no rain.

At center, Adrienne Sandoval, director for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department's Oil Conservation Division, responses to questions during a meeting about methane emissions on Aug. 12 at the Counselor Chapter house.

"The policies that you guys are developing, make sure it happens for our sake over here. We're forgotten out here — Torreon, Ojo Encino, Counselor, Huerfano — because we're at the last end of the reservation," Sage said.

The two departments were directed in an executive order signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to evaluate methane emissions then develop a statewide, enforceable regulatory framework to reduce emissions.

As part of the process, department officials have been gathering input from stakeholders and sharing information about the initiative.

Sandra Ely, director of NMED's Environmental Protection Division, said the agency has been questioned about their regulatory authority for air quality on federal, private, state and tribal lands.

"We have no jurisdiction on tribal land. Tribal authorities regulate their own air quality. This rule will not be applicable on tribal lands," Ely said.

Tribes regulate air quality in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including the Navajo Nation working with the EPA's Region 9 while the other tribes work with Region 6, she said.

Adrienne Sandoval, director of the EMNRD's Oil Conservation Division, said the same applies for drilling permits but tribes work in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management.

Sandra Ely, director for the New Mexico Environment Department's Environmental Protection Division, talks about the process to develop rules for methane emissions on Aug. 12 at the Counselor Chapter house.

Still, the state departments wanted to hear from residents living on or near the Navajo Nation.

Torreon resident Cheyenne Antonio wanted to know about the enforcement of future rules developed in response to the governor's executive order.

"How much do you charge if these corporations continue to violate these regulations? How much is the cost for that? Because it's continuing to happen, and we're exhausted. We have these meetings and there's no teeth to whatever policies that's being written on our behalf," Antonio said.

Carol Davis, a member of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, emphasized to officials the need for the methane policies to lack mechanisms or measurements that enable the oil and natural gas industry to self-monitor.

Teresa Seamster shares information from air quality monitoring several community members conducted in Counselor.

"We'd have no confidence in the data," Davis said.

Efforts to consult with stakeholders have included meetings in Farmington, Albuquerque and Carlsbad.

Officials have conducted tribal consultations with the Navajo Nation, the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council Inc. and the All Pueblo Council of Governors.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney responses to a question during a meeting about methane emissions on Aug. 12 at the Counselor Chapter house.