By

Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

100% of reader revenue goes to the local. independent journalists bringing you the news.

Between Congress, the New Mexico upcoming legislative session and the OCC rule hearings on methane emissions, it looks like environmental bills gone wild on the oil and natural gas industry. Largely unregulated, or self-regulated for close to 100 years, perhaps the industry is finally being brought to task. Legislative bills being drafted on concerns like produced water, methane emissions, fracking practices and money lending have legislators, consultants, lawyers, stakeholders and environmentalists jumping left, right and center pushing a slew of juxtaposed environmental regulations.

A Trump administration rule, adopted Thursday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, requires an individualized, documented assessment of pending customers before a large bank can deny loan applications. A bank can’t simply decide to reject loan requests from fossil fuel companies that don’t align with a bank’s corporate values. The American Bankers Association vehemently opposes the rule because it would limit the ability of lenders to manage their own risks as the climate crisis threatens the stability of the oil, natural gas and coal industries and investors fortunes are threatened by climate change.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) and Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX), H.R. 218 seeks to prohibit the secretary of the interior and the secretary of agriculture from issuing a moratorium on new oil and gas leases or drill permits on some federal lands. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Agriculture. Biden has vowed to halt drilling on public lands as part of an energy transition plan aiming to make the United States carbon neutral by 2050. The president-elect has also nominated Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to be his interior secretary, overseeing the Bureau of Land Management and responsible for mining and drilling leases.

Another bill takes aim at putting fracking permits statewide on hold. Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Bernalillo) and Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Bernalillo) prefiled a bill last Thursday, which includes a definition of “multi-stage hydraulic fracking” and “horizontal drilling” and directs the Oil Conservation Division to stop issuing new fracking permits for four years while state agencies study the impacts of new fracking technologies and make recommendations for regulation to protect public health, the environment and fresh water in New Mexico.

At the state level, the Green Amendment, sponsored by State Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Bill Soules (D-Las Cruces), proposes adding a constitutional amendment to the New Mexico State Constitution to protect the state’s natural resources. Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D-Las Cruces) is introducing the bill in the House. The amendment provides residents of New Mexico with environmental rights, including a right to a clean and healthy environment and a right to the preservation of the environment. It also directs the state to protect environmental resources for the benefit of all the people. Senator Mimi Stewart (D-Bernalillo) and Rep. Harold Pope Jr. (D-Bernalillo) have signed on as cosponsors, as have two Santa Fe Democratic Representatives: Tara Luján and Andrea Romero. 

Rep. Sedillo Lopez will introduce a bill amending the Produced Water Act amendments that would address management of New Mexico’s scarce freshwater supplies and the produced water from the oil and natural gas production process. It would set consequences for spillage and require operators to trace produced water from its origin to disposal, including disclosure of the components in the water such as naturally occurring radiation. It directs the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to adopt rules relating to produced water and other waste fluids that are protective of worker safety, public health and natural resources, as well as limiting the use of freshwater in the oil fields.

Another bill, HB 30, filed by Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos) and Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), addresses water rights leasing in the state. It would limit the Office of the State Engineer’s ability to grant preliminary or temporary approval for water leasing ahead of an application’s approval. 

The Environmental Database Act, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart and Democratic Rep. Gail Chasey, creates a statewide map and database in an effort to make environmental issues easily available to the public on one site. This includes current sources of air pollution and federal Clean Air Act noncompliant areas, surface water resources and impaired waters under the federal Clean Water Act. Locations of oil and gas wells and active mines, locations of national pollutant discharge elimination system permits and EPA Superfund sites would also be included. In addition the proposed database would also give easy access to environmental and wildlife data.

At the OCC rule hearings on methane emissions, lawmakers, lawyers, consultants, environmentalists, stakeholders and representatives from the oil and gas sector have been going over proposed regulations on methane emissions, ferreting out words with a fine-tooth comb, so the bill reflects the direction they want the proposed rules to take. Adoption of any new rules for low and zero emissions, hydrofluorocarbon cuts and further reduction in greenhouse gases and other pollution from the oil and gas industry would not take effect until the summer.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s comprehensive January 2019 executive order reducing greenhouse gas emissions statewide by at least 45 percent by 2030, directing state agencies to develop policies to encourage clean energy deployment, curb climate pollution and cut energy wasted from the oil and gas is acting as the blueprint for many bills introduced this legislative session.

Like this story? Hate it? Share it and add your comments.