Regulators Suspend Gas-Well Density Increase, Public Safety Chief Wants More Coordination

Jan 8, 2019

New Mexico Suspends Increase In Gas-Well Density – Associated Press

New Mexico oilfield regulators have suspended an order that relaxed restrictions on natural gas well locations in a major production basin over the objections of a Texas-based company.

The New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission on Tuesday suspended a prior order pending the rehearing of an application by Texas-based Hilcorp Energy to double well densities in the northwest corner of the state. Oversight of wells shifted Jan. 1 to the Democratic administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and elected Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard.

Newly appointed Oil Conservation Commission Chairman Gabriel Wade says a rehearing is needed to ensure a full review by state regulators and adequate opportunities for public comment.

Hilcorp is defending its application and challenging Wade's qualifications to preside over a commission that makes precedent-setting decisions about rules for oil, gas and geothermal development.

Longtime New Mexico Lawmaker To Oversee Probation, ParoleAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has appointed a longtime state lawmaker to lead the Corrections Department's probation and parole division.

The governor announced Tuesday that Sen. Cisco McSorley, an Albuquerque Democrat, will oversee the state's costly probation and parole system that has come under review by lawmakers who are considering reforms.

The governor's office says New Mexico's probation and parole director will be responsible for overseeing services for men and women recently released from the state's corrections system, including substance abuse, counseling and housing assistance programs.

McSorley, an attorney, was first elected to the state Legislature in 1984, when he won a seat in the House of Representatives. The governor says McSorley submitted his resignation Tuesday to the Senate, where he served on the judiciary committee.

New Mexico Oil Regulators May Revisit Well-Density Order - Associated Press

New Mexico oilfield regulators are weighing whether to reopen a decision that relaxed restrictions on gas well locations at a major production basin in the northwest corner of the state.

The New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission meets Tuesday regarding Texas-based Hilcorp Energy's approved application to double the potential number of wells above the Blanco-Mesaverde gas pool formation.

The commission approved greater well densities in the final months of the administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over the objections of conservationists and area ranchers who fear environmental degradation.

New commission members are presiding over the first meeting since the swearing in on Jan. 1 of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard.

Hilcorp says it presented a scientifically sound case in accordance with laws and regulations.

Judge In New Mexico Compound Case Announces RetirementAssociated Press

A New Mexico judge who faced threats for allowing the release pending trial of suspects charged with child abuse at a ramshackle compound has announced her retirement.

Court officials say Judge Sarah Backus submitted her resignation letter Friday. She intends to retire at the end of the month.

In a statement Tuesday, Backus said she was honored to serve as judge in a district that includes Taos County, and noted her "controversial ruling" in August that cleared the way for the compound suspects' release.

Prosecutors argued the group was training children to use firearms for an anti-government mission — which the defendants' attorneys have disputed.

Backus said her decision last year stemmed from reforms that set high evidence standards to hold suspects without bail.

The suspects were later placed in federal custody on separate charges.

Lawmakers Propose Plastic Bag, Straw Ban For AlbuquerqueAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A recent proposal would severely limit the use of plastic bags, straws and foam containers in Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Albuquerque Democratic City Councilors Isaac Benton, Cynthia Borrego, Pat Davis and Diane Gibson on Monday introduced the Albuquerque Clean and Green Retail Ordinance, a bill that would prohibit retailers from providing customers single-use plastic bags or foam containers for their purchases.

It also would prevent businesses from distributing single-use straws unless they are paper or biodegradable, though it requires businesses that give out such straws to also have plastic versions available upon request "to provide accessibility options for persons with disabilities and medical requirements."

The bill has not yet gone up for a vote. The proposal would require a study in fiscal year 2022 to determine the impact of the legislation.

New Mexico's Public Safety Chief Wants More Coordination - By Mary Hudetz, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's pick to lead the state Public Safety Department is a state law enforcement veteran who said Monday that he'll prioritize coordination and data sharing with local police and sheriff's agencies.

Valencia County Undersheriff Mark Shea, who has a background in school safety and police recruitment, was one of a half dozen appointments Lujan Grisham announced Monday.

Shea will oversee the state police, law enforcement training, crime registries, emergency response and more. Both he and Lujan Grisham underscored a need for more information sharing among local law enforcement agencies and departments.

In recent years, New Mexico has faced high violent crime rates while undergoing key criminal justice reforms, including a voter-approved overhaul of the state's bail system.

US Delegation Seeks More Details On Guatemalan Boy's - Associated Press

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are touring a U.S. Border Patrol station in southern New Mexico as they press for more details about the death of a Guatemalan boy while in federal custody.

Caucus Chairman U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas was joined Monday in Alamogordo by freshman U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico and other Democratic lawmakers.

The tour comes as President Donald Trump continues pushing for funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border as the immigration system becomes more overwhelmed.

On Christmas Eve, Felipe Gomez Alonzo became the second Guatemalan child in December to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border.

New Mexico authorities have said the boy tested positive for the flu, but they've yet to determine a cause of death.

New Mexico Governor Names State Employment Chief - Associated Press

The newly inaugurated governor of New Mexico has appointed a veteran of the administration of President Barack Obama to lead the State Personnel Office.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Monday that Pam Coleman will lead the agency that oversees state employment as the New Mexico Governor seeks to fill a long list of vacancies amid a surge in state government income.

Since taking office Jan. 1, Lujan Grisham has said her administration will review the consolidation of human resource positions at a variety of state agencies by Republican predecessor Susana Martinez.

The governor's office says Coleman served as a special assistant to Obama for leadership development and as director of a recruitment team in the presidential personnel office.

Voters Weigh Property Tax Hike For Albuquerque Schools - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Albuquerque voters are considering a tax hike and bond sale that could result in millions of dollars for the city's public schools.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that a total of $900 million is on the line for the school district in a special election, with the money earmarked for construction, maintenance, security, instructional equipment and technology.

The district has more than $1 billion in school improvements in the queue for the next six years. To get those projects done, it says voters need to approve all three ballot questions.

Superintendent Raquel Reedy calls it a community investment.

Critics say property taxes are already too high and point out that the district gets the second highest cut of property tax revenue.

If approved, residents could expect an average increase in combined property taxes of 4.7 percent.

New Mexico Child-Protection Agency Gets New Leader - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is making appointments to agencies that oversee childhood wellbeing, environmental protection, state police and state personnel decisions.

The director of a San Francisco-based anti-poverty group was appointed Friday to lead the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

Brian Blalock will move to the agency from his job as law and policy director at Tipping Point Community.

New Mexico's protective services system for abused or neglected children has struggled to keep pace with high rates of mistreatment amid a string of high-profile child killings.

The Children, Youth and Families Department has increasingly emphasized early childhood interventions and guidance for parents with infants to minimize traumatic childhood experiences.

Monique Jacobson led the agency until this year under departed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Republican Herrell To Run Against Torres Small In 2020 – Associated Press

A Republican who lost a closely watched U.S. House race in southern New Mexico says she will seek the seat again in 2020.

Yvette Herrell announced in an email Tuesday she will challenge U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in 2020 and asked supporters for early donations.

The announcement comes a day after Herrell said she wouldn't challenge results from the 2018 race where Torres Small edged her out. Herrell claimed "voting irregularities" but has refused to give details.

Torres Small became only the second Democrat to win the traditionally Republican-leaning district in New Mexico along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Torres Small raised almost $4.4 million to flip a congressional district previously held by GOP former Rep. Steve Pearce. Filings show Herrell only took in $1.5 million.


Republican Herrell Will Not Contest US House Race Loss - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A Republican who lost a closely watched U.S. House race in southern New Mexico and has alleged voting irregularities says she will not contest the results.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Republican congressional candidate Yvette Herrell announced Monday she will not contest her defeat to Democrat Xochitl Torres Small after her campaign inspected more than 8,000 absentee ballots cast from a key county.

Herrell faced a Monday deadline to file a court challenge contesting the 2nd Congressional District race's outcome under state law.

Herrell said she never intended to contest the results but suggested her campaign received enough claims of irregularities to warrant a review of the absentee ballots.

However, Herrell has refused to give details about any alleged irregularities and has not returned messages from The Associated Press.

NMSU Professors Get Funding For Virtual Reality Lab - Associated Press

A technology company has awarded two faculty members at New Mexico State University $350,000 to create a new kind of laboratory.

The university says the funding from Las Cruces-based Electronic Caregiver will be used to establish a lab that will provide students and professors a space to conduct research using augmented and virtual reality.

The research is expected to focus on slips and falls, search and rescue behaviors and rehabilitation scenarios, among other things.

The lab will be led by professor Phillip Post of the Department of Kinesiology and Dance and Michael C. Hout, an associate psychology professor.

Hout calls the lab a game-changer, saying it represents a huge technological investment.

The lab will employ graduate and undergraduate research assistants from departments across campus, including kinesiology, psychology, computer science, electrical engineering and the Creative Media Institute.