This past week, Searchlight New Mexico published two revealing pieces on NM Oil & Gas’s unchecked operations , with more reports promised soon. Today we examine their report on NM’s failure to regulate the G&O industry, despite purportedly having some of the most rigorous emissions regulations in the nation. Their first piece, “No eyes on the skies” by Lindsay Fendt, focused on how NM’s approach to regulation is to ask extractors to self-report on leaks, and how brazenly G&O ignores their flaring and leaks, reporting on virtually none of it. What good are strong regulations, if you don’t enforce them?
By 2030, the state of New Mexico has promised to slash its greenhouse gas emissions to below 2005 levels. Like New Years resolutions, promises are easy to make, but require effort to keep.In NM keeping to those promises to ut emissions is proving to be a tall order, that, according to Searchlight, “will require the state to cut its emissions by an amount equivalent to what 17 coal electric plants release in a typical year. To reach this target, state regulators must rein in the oil and gas industry, which is responsible for producing more than half of New Mexico’s climate warming gases.”
This past week, Searchlight examined the state’s most significant climate policy: two new rules aimed at reducing methane releases from oil and gas sites. Together, these regulations are meant to cut some 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas releases. We are about 20 million metric tons short of that today.
Here is why, from Searchlight:
Oil and gas companies are expected to police themselves and follow the rules. And in reporting this story, Searchlight found that many producers were not. If the new rules are to succeed, scofflaws must be held accountable. And yet officials at the state’s regulatory agencies say they’re essentially helpless to police oil and gas operators and enforce the new regulations: They simply don’t have enough staff or resources. Without more “boots on the ground,” as one source described it, the state’s ability to meet its climate goals is questionable. The state’s environmental offices crafted ambitious new rules. One rule, from the state’s Oil Conservation Division, limits the amount of unwanted methane that operators can burn off (flare) or release directly into the air (vent). Another, from the New Mexico Environment Department, requires operators to replace leaky equipment, inspect their wells more often and promptly fix any leaks they discover. By 2026, operators will have to capture 98 percent of all the natural gas their operations produce by either selling or using it.
The rules are some of the strongest in the country, but there’s a catch: They rely on the industry to police itself and accurately report its own emissions. And out in the field, it’s clear that things are already slipping through the cracks.
With the help of Earthworks, Searchlight found 20 well sites that were releasing methane or other polluting gases in the Permian during a two-day tour near Artesia and Carlsbad. These observations were cross-checked with the monthly reports that operators must file with the Oil Conservation Division (OCD), to see if operators were reporting each venting and flaring incident, as required. Thirteen of the 20 reports for these facilities failed to show methane releases consistent with what was observed in the field. (See a list of the facilities here.) emphasis from Retake.
Uncovering these violations is something Barrett was able to do with ease. But for state agencies — responsible for monitoring each of the 56,000 active wells in New Mexico — the job is nearly insurmountable. The OCD has the funds for only 14 field inspectors. NMED’s four air quality compliance field inspectors must cover not only oil and gas sites but also every source of industrial air emissions in the state — “an impossible workload,” according to Matt Maez, a spokesman for the agency.Searchlight New Mexico, “No eyes on the skies” by Lindsay Fendt
How can this possibly be? Fully, 65% of all leaks and flares identified by Searchlight reporters went unreported by gas and oil operators. How many tons of methane are being emitted in violation of state regs, but not being reported? With years of surpluses, we still have but 4 NMED monitors and 14 OCD monitors to enforce regulations, and so we allow one of the most dishonest industries on the planet to self-report. Really??? I spoke with Candle investigative reporter Bruce Weatherbee, at length on Sunday, he is cited below in detail. In our conversation, he indicated that NM Environment Dept. and Oil Conservation Dept. staff are paid so poorly, it is impossible to recruit staff fast enough to replace those exiting for higher paying jobs and tele-work conditions, neither of which are part of NM’s ED or OCD working conditions. Despite having inadequate funds and staff to monitor emissions, Kinney has proclaimed, “At NM ED we are all about hydrogen, all of the time.” At last week’s Legislative FinanceCommittee hearing, Kinney also proclaimed that Avangrid was among the eight hydrogen partners he described as being highly ethical corporate citizens.” So in 2022, the legislature rejects hydrogen five times during the session, and the PRC unanimously rejects the Avangrid merger and here we are in 2023, with Avangrid as an anchor partner in an initiative, we thought the legislative process had rejected. Our supposed democratic institutions are collapsing before our eyes, taking a knee to industry interests. No doubt, Secty Kinney foresees years of non-oversight, of the infamously flawed hydrogen industry. Meanwhile, NM persists in trusting that the least trustworthy industry in the nation will suddenly decide it will behave with integrity and report their spills voluntarily. Better to devote staff to support hydrogen research than to enforce gas & oil regulations.
How dishonest is this industry? Well, in” Exxon Scientists Predicted Global Warming, Even as Company Cast Doubts, Study Finds” a recent NY Times report found that in the 1970’s Exxon researchers perfectly understood climate change and the fossil fuel industry’s culpability, but then devoted tens of millions of dollars to debunking all other independent research showing the same thing…. for decades. Yet, NM thinks its a good idea to let them police themselves. how could that be? This is how…
Thanks to “Democratic House Leaders Saddle Up for another Hydrogen Hub Session taking more than $494,637 of Energy-interest Campaign Cash,” an alarming report by Bruce Weatherbee from The Candle, we can connect the dots and follow the money,. The report begins, thusly, “With Their Democratic Leadership Saddlebags Stuffed with over $490,000 from oil, gas and related energy interests.,” House Rep. Lundstrom confidently pronounced at her Legislative Finance Committee lovefest last week, “Saddle Up Secretary Kinney, We’re gonna have another round of hydrogen this session. Weatherbee’s report goes on to pinpoint the extent of industry largesse provided to Dem leadership, prepping the path to a successful 2023 session..
To what degree has gas and oil infiltrated progressive leadership?
“The soon-to-be new Speaker of cc the New Mexico House of Representatives, Javier Martinez – a self proclaimed “progressive Democrat”- is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the largess of the oil and gas and related private interests in the Hydrogen Hub legislation.
Martinez accepted over $70,000 for his personal campaign committee as well as helping to raise more than $150,000 for “The Speakers Fund” – a stand alone leadership political campaign committee – from these same energy industry interests.
The Candle: “Democratic House Leaders Saddle Up for another Hydrogen Hub Session taking more than $494,637 of Energy-interest Campaign Cash,”
The importance of the $150,000 given to the Speaker’s fund can’t be overstated For years, Speaker Egolf used those funds to reward those loyal to party prioririties, This is an important element of ensuring allegiance among new legislators who will need Speaker fund monies to mount successful re-election campaigns.
With Egolf moving on, progressives were all hoping for a new day in Dem Party leadership, as Rep. Javier Martinez had long been a consistent vote and voice for progressive legislation. Thus, we were all stunned last session, when Rep. Martinez sponsored one of the ill-fated hydrogen bills. Maybe with Weatherbee’s reporting, we can start to connect the dots. What are we to do when even our progressive heroes are “banked” by NMOGA? Will Rep. Martinez be the next Dem leader to proclaim, “I work for you,” to an audience of delighted NMOGA members? Pray no.
The Candle identified other Dem. leaders who are benefitting from gas and oil largesse. Among Dem leadership campaign contribution beneficiaries identified by Weatherbee:
- Javier Martinez’s Campaign: $73,650.00
- The Speaker’s Fund: $150,937.50
- Nathan Small’s Campaign: $45,650.00
- Reena Szczepanski’s Campaign: $18,600.00
- Patricia Lundstrom’s Campaign: $88,850.00
- Brian Egolf’s Campaign: $20,200.00
- Doreen Yvonne Gallegos Campaign: $43,100.00
- Harry Garcia Campaign: $21,300.00
- Antonio “Mo” Maestas Campaign: $28,350.00
So, while constituents are left with only emails and calls to influence the process, gas, oil and energy lobbyists have the preferred currency, cash. What do we do in the face of such overwhelming moneyed influence? YUCCA has a plan…
YUCCA Convergence This Afternoon
Please join the Climate Justice & Energy Convergence and join with other movement leaders, members, and supporters to lift up important issues, opportunities, and discussions as we prepare for the 2023 legislative session.
Join us for our 2nd annual Climate Justice & Energy Democracy Convergence.
Join leaders from the environmental and climate justice movement to discuss policies and organizing strategies to advance our vision for a just energy and economic transition.
TWO AMAZING PANELS!
Hear from leaders from the grassroots as well as national movement spaces. Join in the conversation!
YUCCA panelists and Attendees will be discussing specific policy proposals for the 2023 Legislative Session and learning about the Energy Justice Scorecard and how it can help us evaluate other bills that emerge. Bills featured will include the Office of Just Transition & Just Transition Fund, Local Choice Energy, San Juan Cleanup, Emissions Reduction Bill, and Climate Public Health Act
We’ll be discussing larger movement strategy to build power and win the changes we need with movement leaders.
We certainly could use an infusion of new ideas to build the power to overcome a deck stacked with piles of cash. Register here.
Huddle Up! Weds, 6-7pm
Plan on joining us for our next Huddle, Weds, Jan. 18, 6pm-7pm, where we will update you on our list of bills we support and discuss advocacy strategy to oppose Patrick O’Connell as a PRC Commission nominee and hydrogen legislation, while not losing signt of what we want to achieve.
We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us. Please reach out to your legisltors this week. The session starts Tuesday, but it will be about a week before hearings begin, so please go to or NM Legislation page and reach out to your legislators and discuss the bills about which you care most. And if Javier Martinez is your Rep. reach out and let him know, we are paying attention and expect him to continue to serve as the progressive leader we’ve supported for so long. We need his leadership to stand up to Gas, Oil . & Hydrogen, not to cave in to those industries.
In Solidarity & Hope
Paul & Roxanne