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State works to overhaul energy policies

mb01_jd_12may_1energy
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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A statewide effort is underway to forge new, comprehensive policies and strategies to promote energy development.

The initiative, which the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department launched last fall, aims to shore up the state’s energy-related industries as a force for job creation and long-term economic development.

That includes virtually every energy sector from oil and gas to biofuels, renewable electric generation and even nuclear power, said Daniel Fine, associate director of the Center for Energy Policy at the New Mexico Institute for Mining and Technology in Socorro.

New Mexico Tech is assisting in the initiative, which includes statewide “listening sessions” to collect public input.

“Underlying the whole effort is that today’s energy policy should emphasize economic development and jobs in New Mexico,” he said. “You hear everywhere that New Mexico is rich in natural resources, but it’s still such a poor state. We want to build policies that help resolve that contradiction.”

MARTIN: Policy must be renewed

MARTIN: Policy must be renewed

That requires a comprehensive approach on a range of issues, including investment in infrastructure, deployment of new technologies, efforts to streamline bureaucracy, and creative solutions to water and environ-mental problems, said Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary David Martin.

Gathering direct input

And that, in turn, means creating a broad new policy framework based on direct input from industry and local communities.

“Policy must be renewed periodically,” he said. “The last comprehensive policy was in 1991 under former Gov. Bruce King, and a lot has changed since then.”

A drilling rig rises in the background near a pumpjack, both in operation in southeastern New Mexico. (Journal File)

A drilling rig rises in the background near a pumpjack, both in operation in southeastern New Mexico. (Journal File)

Many basic issues are fundamentally different now, particularly in the oil and gas sector, Fine said. In the early 1990s, oil production was in decline. And while natural gas output was still climbing in the 1990s, by the turn of the century it, too, entered a sharp downturn.

As a result, policies in past decades focused largely on energy conservation and how to achieve energy security in the U.S. But today, thanks to advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies that have opened vast, untapped oil and gas deposits, New Mexico is enjoying an unprecedented boom in oil production.

The central issue now is how to maintain that momentum, Fine said.

Since the fall, the state has held five listening sessions around New Mexico, each one analyzing different energy issues of particular interest to local communities.

All energy sources

In Farmington and Hobbs, participants discussed oil and gas production, plus electric generation and nuclear power. In Santa Fe and Las Cruces, attendees analyzed renewable technologies, energy efficiency, biofuels and water issues. And in Socorro, they looked at water and environmental concerns related to hydraulic fracturing, as well as potential for small modular nuclear reactors to provide future electric generation.

Nearly 400 people have participated to date, including industry executives, energy experts, public officials and community representatives.

A final session is scheduled for May 29 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, where the public is invited to discuss water issues related to hydraulic fracturing, including new technologies to tap brackish groundwater and recycle produced water. The session also will review battery storage technology for solar generation, and use of liquid natural gas for fuel.

The results of all sessions will be compiled in a final public document with proposals and recommendations in the fall, Fine said.

WHEELER: "It was a very open process"

WHEELER: “It was a very open process”

Participants say the process has been comprehensive and inclusive.

Gray Mercer and other employees of Positive Energy are seen installing an 11.8-kilowatt solar system at Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe last year. (Journal File)

Gray Mercer and other employees of Positive Energy are seen installing an 11.8-kilowatt solar system at Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe last year. (Journal File)

“The renewable energy community was very well represented,” said Regina Wheeler, CEO of Positive Energy Solar, who attended the session in Santa Fe last November. “It was a very open process. They’re working really hard and covering a lot of ground around the state.”

Updating codes

Wheeler also participated in a post-session “priority group” that helped condense event discussions into a few key policy recommendations. Some suggestions include updated energy efficiency codes for public buildings and new building construction; efforts to build more renewable energy transmission lines; and new long-term goals for the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which currently requires public utilities to derive at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020.

Still, Wheeler said the process overall is somewhat stunted by its exclusive focus on economic development and job creation.

“They’re not evaluating things like health or wellness related to energy development,” she said.

But the process has embraced controversial issues such as potential environmental impacts from hydraulic fracturing.

San Miguel concerns

Local officials from San Miguel County, where resolutions banning fracking have been considered, attended the Socorro event and asked university scientists and state officials to help address concerns by local citizens.

Now, a new policy is underway to create a rapid-response network that will provide science-based information about energy and water issues when needed by counties and towns, Fine said.

In fact, water has emerged as a key issue in all planning sessions, given the huge amount used in oil and gas production. Officials say they will push aggressively the reuse of produced water and use of brackish water in the oil and gas industry.

“We want to pursue technology innovation to treat that water and recycle it,” Fine said.

Infrastructure development in New Mexico’s southeast and northwest oil and gas zones also has emerged as a critical issue.

HEATON: Desperate for road maintenance funds

HEATON: Desperate for road maintenance funds

John Heaton, a former state representative from Eddy County, told officials in Socorro that Carlsbad and surrounding communities desperately need funding for road maintenance and other improve-ments.

“We have much higher death rates on our highways because of all the activity,” he said. “It’s a real conundrum.”

Initiatives emerging

Meanwhile, some concrete initiatives already have emerged from listening sessions. In February, the state reached an agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to allow San Juan College to help the BIA expedite processing of land-lease agreements between energy firms and Navajo families.

Navajo representatives had told officials in the Farmington session last November that hundreds of lease payments were stalled because of chronic BIA budget and staff shortages.

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