Residents an public officials spoke on both sides of the issue when the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission held a public comment hearing on the New Mexico Gas Company’s proposed liquified natural gas facility Nov. 20 that lasted a little less than four hours.
“It’s extremely important to us to hear from you and to know what you think. It’s been useful and enlightening to me personally,” PRC commissioner James Ellison said.
The proposed LNG facility would be located on Rio Rancho land that falls in the border of Bernalillo County between Double Eagle Airport and Volcano Vista High School. Before the facility can be built, the NM PRC has to approve the project. Part of the PRC process is to hear from the public about the facility before they meet in 2024 to decide.
While normally the PRC meets in Santa Fe, this public meeting was held at the Sandoval County Judicial Complex in the county commission chambers. At the start of the meeting, that room was full of people there to comment publicly whether they support or oppose the idea of a LNG facility in the area. Residents, politicians, environmentalists and chamber of commerce members all had something to say.
Those who were against the facility being built generally said they fear the facility would cause a danger to residents.
“People try to say this is a storage facility and not a bigger place, but in the 2014 explosion that occurred in Washington state, that was a storage facility,” Rio Rancho resident
The explosion he was referring to occurred in April 2014 and “threw 250-pound pieces of steel up to 300 yards through the air,” according to the Seattle Times.
Freedman went on to say that the New Mexico Gas Company would be the only one profiting from the facility because “they have a legal obligation” to it.
“And even if it doesn’t blow up in 10 years, it’s going to be another stranded cost just like coal, and we don’t want the taxpayers and the rate payers to have to bare the burden,” he said.
Others doubled down, saying the methane clouds produced by the facility would cause hazardous weather and possible fires. One called it a potential “inferno” in New Mexico lands.
One resident, Iris Gersh, said New Mexico does not need any more fire damage.
“These methane clouds can extend for miles. With hydrocarbons that are there like ethane and propane, there can be a higher risk of exploding,” Gersh said via Zoom.
Public commenters against the facility spanned across the generations as well.
“I am from the Pueblos of Laguna and Isleta but I actually reside in Albuquerque as a direct result of environmental racism and industry pollution that rendered my home village dangerously, toxically colluded at the hands of the industry,” Jonathan Juarez said.
Juarez and other young environmentalists in their late teens and early 20s spoke about the impacts on them and their families.
While most residents opposed the proposed LNG facility, politicians and chamber of commerce members were generally in support of the idea.
“Today I speak to you as a citizen. As a fellow policy maker, I understand the responsibilities and trusted tests by our constituents. It can be challenging to maintain a future focus when setting policy. As someone who lives in this area in southern Rio Rancho and cares about the communities surrounding the proposed site, I feel confident in the risk, mitigation and safety measures that New Mexico Gas plans to implement to secure the safety of our community members with building and operating this facility,” Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block said.
Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Schalow was also there in support of the facility.
“Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce is in favor of the proposed LNG facility for several reasons,” Schalow said.
He said the facility would provide energy security and jobs, among other things.
“The LNG facility would help ensure the reliable and affordable supply of natural gas. As we saw last year, the cost of natural gas dramatically increased. And every time that gas is limited during the winter time, those that cannot afford higher-price natural gas are stuck paying it and then we’re looking for different ways to help them out. This reduces the reliance on the need for higher natural gas prices that we were buying natural gas at when needed during cold fronts from other states,” he said.
Schalow added that the area where this facility would be built is zoned for industrial use so the LNG facility would rightfully go there.
The New Mexico Gas Company reached out after the meeting to give comment on what was said by commenters.
“We thought the hearing was very informative for all who came and listened. We appreciated all of the comments, both for and against the proposed facility, and we found the session to be helpful. We are committed to continuing engagement with the community about this project. We remain convinced that the proposed LNG storage facility is beneficial for our customers, and it will be designed to be the safest, cleanest facility possible. As ordered by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, we examined options, and we have recommended this facility as the preferred option to help increase the reliability and effectiveness of New Mexico Gas Company’s gas supply system, which serves more than 1.3 million New Mexicans daily. All of our customers are important to us, those who came to the hearing and commented last night and those who rely on us for reliable natural gas to heat their homes,” NM Gas Co. Communications Manager Tim Korte said.
The NM PRC will not meet again on the facility’s future until March 2024, but Ellison says people are welcome to comment on it at their next general meeting in Santa Fe or on Zoom. The schedule for their meetings can be found on the website.