The Largest Solar Energy Project in New Mexico
A new $260-million solar project on 1,400 acres near Roswell is the largest in the state. On Oct. 6, local and state leaders celebrated the Roswell and Chaves County Solar Energy centers, which 300 workers spent a year building. About 600,000 solar panels with a combined generating capacity of 140 megawatts (MW), enough to power more than 40,000 homes, will track the sun. According to a news release, 300 jobs were created during the construction phase. Five full-time employees will oversee the energy centers.
NextEra Energy Resources developed and built the project and will own and operate the two centers. Xcel Energy, which recently energized a new 37-mile high-voltage transmission line across the New Mexico-Texas state line, will purchase the power for customers in those states. Renewable energy accounts for 20 percent of the power Xcel produces in New Mexico and Texas, and the company plans to expand its renewable energy sources.
Tribal Leaders and U.S. Lawmakers Discuss Energy Development
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chaired a U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee field hearing in Santa Fe last month. He was joined by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and a panel of invited witnesses.
Officials from the Navajo Nation, the southern Ute tribe in Colorado and a tribe in Alaska said they want more autonomy from the federal government when it comes to developing their lands for energy resources. They testified in support of proposed legislation, including the Native American Energy Act, HR 538, which would exempt Native communities from environmental assessments such as the National Environmental Policy Act and federal regulations intended to limit the oil and gas industry’s venting and flaring. The officials said the legislation would give tribal leaders more authority to permit energy development, expedite mineral extraction on tribal lands and make it more affordable for companies.
Members of New Mexico pueblos, a former Navajo council delegate and environmental advocates attended the hearing to protest the proposed legislation. They held a banner that said, “No more extraction. Honor Native lands.” The Obama administration opposes the resolution, saying that it limits public comment and removes critical environmental oversight. Methane is an increasing concern for those living close to oil and gas development. The greenhouse gas has been linked to health risks and can impact climate change. A recent NASA study identified concentrated methane as coming from oil and gas producers in San Juan County.
Fracking Studies Confirm Earthquake Impacts
A new study published last month in the journal Science has confirmed that high-volume injections of wastewater from oil and gas activities deep underground have been causing earthquakes. The study, using satellite data between 2005 and 2007, focused on four wells in eastern Texas. One quake in the area reached magnitude 4.8. Approximately 180,000 of these disposal wells are currently in operation in the United States. The study’s findings may help scientists predict earthquakes and uncover new possibilities for operating wells in ways that reduce earthquake hazards.
Oklahoma, a center of the oil and gas industry’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activities, has become the earthquake capital of the United States mainland. More than 12 tremors jolted the Oklahoma-Kansas border region in the aftermath of the region’s strongest temblor on Sept. 3.
The Navajo Nation, which is in the process of updating regulations related to oil and gas production on its lands, is seeking to learn more about the potential environmental impacts of industry practices. In April, Council Delegate Jonathan Hale introduced legislation opposing oil and gas drilling. Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company CEO Louis Denetsosie, who recently advocated eliminating BLM oversight of the tribe’s lands before a congressional panel, opposed Hale’s legislation. The conflict resulted in a tribal committee’s request for a scientific study. The study is to be completed by Dec. 31.
Interior Dept. to Review Management of Chaco-Area Lands
To address concerns regarding mineral leasing and oil and gas development adjacent to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the U.S. Department of the Interior will expand its planning effort underway in the area. For the first time, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Farmington Field Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Navajo Regional Office will jointly conduct an analysis that covers both public and tribal lands. “BIA’s decision to join BLM’s planning effort as a co-lead reflects the complex land tenure around the park and demonstrates the Department’s commitment to ensuring that the region’s rich cultural and archaeological resources are protected,” said Deputy Secretary Michael J. Connor.
The BLM initiated a process to update its Resource Management Plan for the San Juan Basin in 2014. The BLM and the BIA are seeking public comments to identify issues and concerns related to BIA-managed mineral leasing and associated activities in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that is being prepared. A 60-day public scoping process ends on Dec. 20. The BLM and the BIA will be hosting public meetings in Shiprock, Bloomfield, Counselor, Nageezi, Ojo Encino, Cuba and Crownpoint in New Mexico, and in Window Rock, Arizona. Additional information is available at www.blm.gov/nm/farmington
Last month a federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit by environmentalists challenging the BLM’s approval of 260 drilling applications in the San Juan Basin. The groups will now likely take their case to district court.
Order Encourages Tribal Role in Managing Interior Lands
On Oct. 21, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced a Secretarial Order encouraging cooperative management opportunities between the Department’s land and water managers and federally recognized tribes. The order sets out a framework to ensure that Native communities have the opportunity to assume meaningful and substantive roles in managing public lands that have special geographical, historical and cultural connections to the tribes. It facilitates the integration of tribal ecological knowledge, practices and concerns. “This will boost our efforts to increase tribal self-determination and self-governance,” said Secretary Jewell. “This kind of collaboration with tribal nations will help ensure that we’re appropriately and genuinely integrating indigenous expertise, experience and perspectives into the management of public lands.”
Geothermal Leasing in the Jémez Ranger District
A proposal to allow geothermal energy production on National Forest land in the Jémez Mountains threatens popular hot springs and recreation areas, habitat for sensitive wildlife and quality of life for area residents, according to the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
The Santa Fe National Forest is weighing several alternatives for geothermal development in the Jémez Ranger District, including areas abutting the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The Wilderness Alliance, a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of New Mexico’s wildlands and wilderness areas, is encouraging the Forest Service to select its no-leasing alternative.
Although it is a renewable energy source, geothermal production can have substantial environmental consequences, including surface disturbance for well pads and pumps, roads, trucks, transmission lines and pipelines. Additionally, fresh water is required, and fracking (hydraulic fracturing) often is used. Mark Allison, executive director of the alliance, cited a Forest Service report, which says that geothermal development would increase fire risk and could lower the temperature of existing hot springs because cooler water could mix underground with hotter water. The Forest Service proposal bans surface disturbance in roadless areas and leasing within a mile of hot springs.
In May 2015, Ormat Technologies of Reno, Nevada, proposed leasing about 46,000 acres for geothermal production. The Forest Service expanded the area to 195,000 acres, based on U.S. Geological Survey maps of high geothermal potential. The proposed leasing area contains nine popular recreation sites such as San Antonio Hot Springs, Battleship Rock, Soda Dam and the Las Conchas fishing access, as well as sacred Indigenous sites, roadless areas and areas the Wilderness Alliance believes may qualify for wilderness designation. In addition, the area is home to endangered species.