On a bitterly chilly January day, a group that advocates for the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy demonstrated outside the New Mexico Gas Company offices in Albuquerque in protest of the company’s proposal to build a $180 million Liquid Natural Gas storage facility on the edge of Rio Rancho.
New Mexico Gas Company (NMGC) recently applied with the Public Regulation Commission for a certificate that would open the door to building the facility on 25 acres of a 167-acre property it intends to buy in Bernalillo County north of Double Eagle II Airport. The company said in a news release last month the new Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) facility would replace one it leases in west Texas. Relocating the storage facility would benefit customers by ensuring a reliable gas supply and reducing price volatility in years to come, the company said.
But a couple dozen demonstrators led by 350 New Mexico, a group that works to prevent the worst effects of climate change, braved stiff winds against the backdrop of the NMGC office building and snow-covered Sandia Mountains on Jan. 20 to display their displeasure with the proposal.
“We’re opposing it for a whole bunch of reasons,” said Tom Solomon, co-coordinator of 350 New Mexico. “Most importantly, methane is a very powerful global warming pollutant. New Mexico got a taste of climate change last summer with the fires near Las Vegas that were devastating to those people.
“Spending money on this instead of rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels is absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
Jim MacKenzie, also co-coordinator with 350 New Mexico, explained that methane is the main constituent of natural gas and methane released through its use has a big impact on climate change.
“Calling it ‘natural gas’ is a way to make it sound wonderful,” he said.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane accounts for 20% of global emissions and methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled in the last two centuries. Significant reductions would rapidly reduce global warming potential, the agency says.
MacKenzie said it will take time to take the necessary steps to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and building an expensive storage facility is a step in the wrong direction.
“What we’re saying is this plan is not the best one,” he said, confident there’s evidence to support his claim. “And if you open it up to public input you will find that it is not the best solution.”
The Public Regulation Commission isn’t expected to take up the application for several months.
The proposed facility would consist of a 1 billion cubic foot storage tank that would store LNG at minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit. LNG takes up about 1/600th of the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state, according to NMGC.
The facility in Rio Rancho would be capable of liquefying natural gas into LNG and vaporizing LNG back into natural gas when needed.
NMGC spokesman Tim Korte said the company respects the demonstrators’ right to voice their opinion.
Asked to address the protesters’ concerns about methane, Korte said in an email, “Importantly, this LNG facility will be designed as a closed system and it will not normally emit any methane to the atmosphere. Natural gas will enter the facility from the company’s existing transmission and distribution system and, when needed, return to that system.”
Korte reiterated that the presence of the facility in Rio Rancho would ensure reliability and mitigate price spikes due to circumstances originating out of state.
The facility, which if approved wouldn’t be built until 2024, wouldn’t affect rates immediately, but cost recovery would be part of a future rate case after the facility is built.
That was another complaint made by 350 New Mexico. They argued that as more people move away from fossil fuel use to renewable energy, the other, generally more vulnerable communities that can’t afford to do so, will be left behind to pay the higher rates.
NMGC’s Korte didn’t address that complaint directly. He said customers should have a choice of which type of energy they use to heat their homes and businesses, heat their water heaters, and cook their food.
“Natural gas continues to be a cost-effective energy choice for hundreds of thousands of our customers across the state,” he said.
But it’s the cost to the environment and human health that has 350 New Mexico concerned.
Solomon brought up the issue of gas stove safety, which has set off so much hysteria among some lately.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent announcement that it would examine health risks associated with gas stoves in creating indoor pollution has been framed by some as the federal government seeking to ban gas stoves.
“Moving to all electric cooking appliances and hot water heaters is better for the planet and better for public health,” he said. “We have to get off the use of natural gas.”
While NMGC says LNG storage facilities are safe, MacKenzie claimed the safety record is mixed. No matter what, having a huge storage facility of highly flammable gasses close to a metropolitan area must present a danger.
“It’s a risk, and an unnecessary risk,” he said.
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