FACT CHECK: New Mexico’s new energy chief is dangerously wrong on basic science, and it could cost New Mexico taxpayers dearly

Over strong objections, Kenley McQueen was confirmed as secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department on Wednesday.  During his contentious confirmation hearing, he displayed a shockingly out-of-touch view of many of the areas for which he is now responsible, something that should worry every New Mexican concerned with public lands and the state’s budget.

Chief among his reality-defying statements was about the cause and effect of leaking methane gas in the Four Corners area. His answer, when asked about the unusually large concentration of methane gas over the Four Corners area, raises some serious red flags.  The gas, he said, was caused by methane seeping form mines or other exposed geologic formations.  This is flat wrong, and the fact that he favors industry talking points over sound science is worrisome.

Here are the facts:  

In August of 2016, NASA performed an “extensive airborne survey” to study the sources of a massive methane gas cloud floating above the Four Corners area.  They found:

– More than 250 individual sources of leaking methane, mostly from oil and gas operations in the San Juan Basin.  These include leaking pipelines and storage takes.

– Of those 250, a mere 10% account for more than half of all the methane pollution in the area.

In a similar 2014 study, using data from industry itself, the Center for American Progress found that “the San Juan Basin of Colorado and New Mexico experienced the most methane emissions per well in 2014.”

This is an unjustifiable waste of New Mexico’s natural resources, and hascost taxpayers over $40 million in lost royalties since 2009.

Governor Susana Martinez, who has received over $1,000,000 in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, appointed McQueen after his 35-year career working for oil and gas companies.  He most recently served as a vice president of WPX Energy, a company who has drilled more than 100 wells in the San Juan Basin, and who donated generously to Governor Martinez’s campaign.

Martinez’s opposition to the BLM’s Methane Waste Rule, which would end wasteful methane handling practices and bring in many millions of dollars in extra state and federal revenue, has caused concern among her constituents.

Given his troubling history and the Governor’s refusal to listen to concerned New Mexicans, can Secretary McQueen be trusted to ensure New Mexico taxpayers get a fair deal for their natural resources, or will he continue to ignore wasteful industry practices while spouting industry talking points?

The signs so far point to a troubling answer.

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