NM Gas proposes LNG plant near monument

By Anni Hanna

If you have hiked Petroglyph National Monument North, you know its rugged beauty and cultural significance. New Mexico Gas Company is proposing a $180 million facility for storing and regasifying liquefied natural gas (LNG) on 25 acres close to these petroglyphs, and just two miles from Ventana Ranch and Double Eagle Airport.

The facility poses health and safety risks to surrounding communities and could raise the prices of gas by $3 a month for the next 30 years for ALL gas customers.

LNG is created through an energy-intensive process to cool methane gas to –260° F, changing it from gas to a liquid that is 1/600th its original volume. The proposed facility would store about 12 million gallons of liquid natural gas and regasify 200,000 gallons per day to be distributed back into existing pipelines.

At a recent Public Regulation Commission forum, New Mexicans testified for over three hours, with about 80% of speakers raising concerns about the LNG facility, such as the potential to spark wildfires, risks to first responders, recent explosions at LNG plants in Texas, stranded assets of fossil-fuel infrastructure, and economic hardships already faced by New Mexico Gas customers:

“As a homeowner, I strongly object to LNG in my backyard or being in anyone’s backyard. This is not an energy source we need to be pursuing. We need to be investing in solar and solar energy storage,”
said Madigan Ray, a Rio Rancho resident.

“Why would you site a 12-million-gallon, 10-story LNG facility right next to a large metropolitan area? …There have been no independent environmental impact studies… What’s going to be the impact on property values?”
said Russ Poggensee, Santa Fe Village Neighborhood Association president in Rio Rancho.

State Sen. Harold Pope, along with 13 New Mexico representatives, also wrote a letter to the PRC outlining their concerns:

“The primary physical danger at an LNG plant is a leak forming a low-lying vapor cloud of methane gas that drifts until it hits an ignition source — even simple static electricity — igniting an inferno that cannot be extinguished with water. Depending on wind speed and topography, these vapor clouds can drift for miles. First responders require specialized training and equipment to respond to these leaks, and the risk of an explosive wildfire spreading in the arid Rio Grande Valley threatens the health and safety of our largest population center,”
Sen. Pope’s letter to PRC said.

In February 2021, a severe storm strained the gas supply in Texas, causing technical issues at gas plants, excess demand and unprecedented price spikes as gas-plant owners capitalized on the supply shortage. New Mexico Gas contracts with Keystone storage facility in Texas, and when the company was warned of potential shortages, it incurred over $107 million in fuel costs  procuring alternate supplies on the volatile gas markets.The PRC ordered New Mexico Gas to evaluate  potential measures to prevent future extraordinary price spikes. Hence, the company’s proposal for this LNG plant in Rio Rancho.

However, since 2021, improvements have been made at the Keystone facility to prevent reliability issues. The proposed LNG facility would offer just half the gas supply available through the Keystone contract. Solely relying on the proposed facility could put New Mexicans at greater risk of price volatility in the event of another major storm. The true rationale for the $180 million plant is likely the guaranteed return on equity that New Mexico Gas can charge ratepayers for its capital investments.

Residents are rightly concerned about their health and safety. Now is the time to find alternatives, not invest $180 million in more fossil-fuel methane infrastructure.

The LNG proposal comes before the Public Regulation Commission on January 8.

Submit your concerns by emailing: public.comment@prc.nm.gov.

NM Gas proposes LNG plant near monument