SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Tuesday, legislators considered a bill to give the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department additional powers to deny permits to oil and gas companies. The bill would also require oil and gas companies to prove they have “environmental insurance coverage.”
House Bill 276, sponsored by Representatives Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe) and Christine Chandler (D-Santa Fe & Los Alamos), would place additional controls on who could receive a permit to pump oil and gas. The bill would require companies to prove they have environmental insurance and that they are fiscally solvent.
The bill is “essentially updating our ability to revoke and deny permits to ‘bad actors’ in the oil and gas industry,” Romero explained to the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. “Currently we don’t have that solidified power within our government.”
In committee, several people spoke in opposition to the bill. Patrick Killen, a lobbyist for Chevron, took issue with the idea that the bill might require a public hearing for each permit decision, something Killen says there’s no capacity for at the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department. “So, let’s call this bill for what it really is: a backdoor attempt to block future development in New Mexico,” he concluded.
“Marathon oil spends approximately $500 million a year in New Mexico,” Hugo Gutierrez, a lobbyist for Marathon Oil, said in Tuesday’s committee. “This bill would effectively shut our industry down.”
Others spoke in favor of the bill. “This bill would help to address the problem that New Mexico faces with a large number of abandoned oil wells,” Charles de Saillan, a lobbyist for the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, said.
Luis Guerrero, a lobbyist for the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, also spoke in favor of House Bill 276. “This is a key tool to ensuring that companies with a history of environmental violations don’t cost the state and taxpayers by violating laws and then declaring bankruptcy,” Guerrero said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, some debate focused on whether or not the bill would apply to all oil and gas producers or just so-called ‘bad actors.’ With the thinking that the bill is designed to help stop bad actors, Greg Nibert – (R-Chaves County), pointed out that perhaps, “if it only applies to bad actors, the – for lack of a better word, ‘good actors’ – should not have to purchase the [environmental] insurance that’s required.”
In response, Mara Yarbrough, an attorney, and lobbyist from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, who acted as an expert witness for the bill, clarified: “Part of proving that you’re a ‘good actor’ would be showing that you have third-party insurance,” Yarbrough said.
On Tuesday, the House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee voted not to move the bill forward. And then, the committee tabled the bill.