AP NEWS

Secrecy shrouds talks on New Mexico’s methane emissions

November 12, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been outspoken about curbing methane emissions, but the advisory panel tasked with making recommendations is meeting behind closed doors and even the times and places of its gatherings are not made public.

There have been no published agendas or meeting minutes on what the panel has discussed despite the political importance of the sessions, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports .

The lack of transparency around the methane talks was criticized by Melanie Majors, director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

“Secrecy is the hallmark of totalitarian nations, not democracies,” Majors said in an email. “Government transparency and accountability are essential for a working democracy. How can citizens make informed decisions if they are kept out of the process?”

Panel members and a spokeswoman for the Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said that the meetings are largely technical and making them public would thwart frank discussion.

“The methane advisory panel members — both industry and environmental organizations — concurred with the process to ensure a candid, productive and timely process,” Nora Sackett, spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email.

Sackett said the panel is organized in an advisory capacity so it’s not subject to state open meetings laws.

After discussions conclude on topics like compressor engines, storage tanks and pneumatic valves, a report will be shared publicly for review and comment.

Sackett said it will be up to the New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to draft rules governing methane emissions after the group issues its report.

State officials plan to hold public meetings on the final report before the end of the year in Farmington and Carlsbad — two of the state’s oil and gas producing regions.

The panel includes industry representatives and environmental lawyers. No one talked about what has taken place at the meetings.

Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, declined to discuss details about the meetings.

The industry group has published a roadmap for how it believes state regulators should tackle emissions. It suggests a “practical and cost-effective” strategy along with flexibility to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach, pointing to the differences in production methods in the Permian and San Juan basins.

McEntyre has criticized environmentalists for proposing a strategy that includes “expensive and costly steps that are essentially feel good” ideas “that don’t really serve to reduce emissions.”

The New Mexican obtained an agenda for an October meeting of the panel that centered on an industry practice known as venting and flaring — the releasing or burning of excess methane into the atmosphere.

Tom Singer, a senior policy adviser at Western Environmental Law Center and a member of the panel, said oil and gas companies are not generally willing to discuss why venting and flaring occurs in some areas but not others, or talk about why wells are drilled with no connecting pipes to funnel excess methane that could be used as fuel.

“The industry is not nearly as forthcoming as I think they could be, and I don’t understand why,” Singer said.

Elizabeth Paranhos, a lawyer with the Environmental Defense Fund who’s also a panel member, said her group sees reducing venting and flaring in the Permian Basin as a high priority. The group has suggested gas capture plans, more pipelines to carry excess methane, and more efficient flaring to reduce emissions.

Lujan Grisham’s administration also could put limits on the amount of flaring, similar to an Obama-era cap that was eliminated under President Donald Trump.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.santafenewmexican.com