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Newsbites – July 2013
New Mexico a Leader in Clean Technology
According to Clean Edge, a research and marketing firm in San Francisco, New Mexico is one of the leaders in clean technology development. New Mexico ranked seventh in the nation based on criteria such as clean-energy generation and capacity, green-building deployment, state policy (utilities are required to provide a certain amount of renewable energy), energy-efficiency expenditures, smart meters, emissions, clean-technology patents and more.
Clean Edge’s annual US Clean Tech Leadership Index also praised the work the state’s national laboratories are doing in areas such as solar- and smart-grid research. Said study author and senior editor Clint Wilder, “In New Mexico’s case, this is the illumination: human and intellectual capital. That’s where NM shines.”
The top 10 includes: California, Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, Illinois, Minnesota and Hawaii.
Mora County Expands Fracking Ban
At a Mora County Commission meeting last month commissioners voted to expand their countywide prohibition on fracking—the nation’s first–to include individuals as well as corporations. The commission is now considering further revising the county’s land-use plan to address oil and gas drilling.
The ordinance approved by the commission in April was based on a template crafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which has helped establish 150 community rights ordinances around the country; 35 of those bar oil and gas development.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC and other companies hold 144,000 acres of mineral leases in bucolic, rural Mora County, which has a population of 5,200, a high water table fed by the surrounding mountains, acequia agriculture and cattle ranches. Many families in the area have descendants who lived there since before it became part of the United States under a treaty that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848.
Most of Mora County’s residents apparently support the ban, some fearing that drilling would contaminate valued water resources and work against efforts to revitalize small-scale agriculture, expand ecotourism and develop renewable energy projects such as solar and biomass.
Fracking Comment Period Extended
Due to the high level of interest, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has extended the comment period until Aug. 23 on a revised rule to regulate hydraulic fracturing. The rule will be the first update to federal oil and gas regulations since the 1980s.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” using water, sand and chemicals to fracture deep rock to release deposits of hydrocarbons, has rapidly expanded in recent years. There are plans to exponentially increase its use in New Mexico. Questions are being debated about to what extent fracking contaminates underground water sources, whether the chemicals used should be publicly disclosed, and whether there is adequate management of well integrity and the “flowback” fluids that return to the surface.
The BLM oversees about 700 million acres of federal mineral rights and 56 million acres of tribal mineral rights. The majority of the wells drilled on federal and tribal lands reportedly use fracking.
Comments may be mailed to: US Dept. of the Interior, Director (630), Bureau of Land Management, Mail Stop 2134 LM, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC, 20240, Attn: 1004-AE26 or online through regulations.gov
NM Atmospheric Trust Suit to Proceed
Judge Denies Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
Eighteen-year-old Akilah Sanders-Reed’s climate-change lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez and the state of New Mexico will proceed on the merits. Last month First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton issued a written order denying defendants’ motion to dismiss and request for an immediate appeal. Judge Singleton’s order recognized that “plaintiffs have made a substantive allegation that . . . the state is ignoring the atmosphere with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.” Sanders-Reed’s and co-plaintiff WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit (No. D-101-CV-2011-1514) relies upon the long established principle of the public trust doctrine, which requires all branches of government to protect and maintain certain shared resources fundamental for human health and survival.
This order was issued days after Texas Judge Gisela Triana, hearing a similar case, found that all natural resources, including the atmosphere, are protected under the Public Trust Doctrine and the Texas constitution (Angela Bonser-Lain, et al. v Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Case No. D-1-GN-11-002194).
Judge Singleton’s order and Judge Triana’s opinion were issued as the Southwest US suffers from sustained droughts and severe wildfires that many scientists say represent the destructive impacts of climate change that is, to a significant extent, human-caused. “My generation will be stuck with the horrible consequences of our government’s failure to do anything about climate change,” said Sanders-Reed, a leader in the iMatter youth movement. “The longer my state’s leaders refuse to uphold their public trust obligations, the worse off we will all be. Judge Singleton’s decision gives me hope that New Mexico may be willing to step up and be accountable to my generation before it is too late.”
Protections Lost with the Gutting of the Pit Rule
Last month the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission—the majority of its members appointed by Gov. Martinez—issued its final order adopting most of the oil and gas industry’s proposed changes to the waste pit regulation (the Pit Rule). As it stands, NM, which gets 90 percent of its drinking water from groundwater, has lost major groundwater and public health protections during a time of unprecedented drought. The losses include reduced setbacks for toxic mining waste pits from homes, schools and fresh water sources. Acceptable concentrations of toxins for burial at almost any drill site have been greatly increased, disincentivizing closed loop systems that reduce the volume of drilling waste. Site-specific groundwater data is no longer required to be collected prior to digging a pit.
“Frack lakes” are now allowed. “The new Pit Rule calls them multi-well fluid management pits,” says Eric Jantz, NM Environmental Law Center (NMELC) staff attorney, “but they are really multi-acre artificial lakes filled with toxic fracking fluids. They have no size limit. These lakes are new to NM and they may remain in place until drilling or fracking operations are completed—typically 5-15 years.”
The NMELC represented Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project against oil and gas industry groups’ petition to weaken the Pit Rule. Since the rule’s adoption in 2008, industry groups have complained that the rule was an economic burden. Yet, as recently as May, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that oil production is up 46 percent and that the Pit Rule hasn’t actually shown any negative effect on production. The NMELC and its clients are considering an appeal.
DOE Inspector General Cites Disaster Risks at LANL
An audit released on June 26 by the Department of Energy Inspector General criticizes Los Alamos National Laboratory’s management of its main plutonium facility, which sits atop an earthquake fault line. The report says that the facility, where plutonium cores of nuclear bombs are produced, could collapse in a large earthquake, releasing deadly doses of radiation.
The audit also cites deficiencies in the fire prevention and protection systems for LANL’s Area G, which holds low-level nuclear waste and more than 5,600 containers of transuranic waste scheduled to be removed from fabric-covered domes by the end of 2014. Systems designed to suppress fires in the structures that store the containers have suffered from numerous pipe breaks and freeze damage.
The report says that LANL is susceptible to forest fires, including those started by lightning. Since 2000, there have been two major forest fires that threatened Los Alamos, resulting in the evacuation of the lab and the city.
Echoing the concerns of watchdog groups and a federal oversight board, the audit states, “While a number of compensatory and corrective actions have been completed, in our view, further actions are needed to mitigate existing vulnerabilities.”
A statement from LANL is expected, pending approval from the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the lab. The NNSA has, in the past, dismissed earthquake concerns.
2013 Santa Fe BizMIX Competition
The BizMIX competion brings together young entrepreneurs with drive and inspiration with resource networks and seasoned mentors in Santa Fe. It is a special project run by MIX Santa Fe, designed to cultivate an engaged community of professionals.
Eleven teams were selected from more than 50 applications. They are currently going through the competition and coaching process and will give their final presentations to judges on Sept. 26.
More than $15,000 in business-building cash and professional resources will be awarded when winners are announced in October. Along the way there will be numerous colorful and engaging activities, including the MIX pitch contest on Aug. 15 and the mentor/workshop nights on July 25 and Aug. 22.
For more information, visit MixSantaFe.com/bizMIX
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