Amigos Bravos

Because Water Matters — Since 1988

We have a vision of New Mexico’s rivers and streams running so clear and clean that you can bend a knee to the water, cup your hands, and drink without fear.


Energy Development


Energy development is the effort to provide sufficient energy sources and forms to aid the survival and advancement of the human population. Technologically advanced societies have become increasingly dependent on external energy sources for transportation, the production of manufactured goods, and the delivery of energy services. This energy allows people who can afford the cost to live under otherwise unfavorable climatic conditions through the use of heating, ventilation, and/or air conditioning. Sources of energy include fossil fuels and nuclear, as well as renewable resources such as: solar, wind, hydroelectric, agricultural biomass, geothermal, and tidal.

The energy demands of the United States are high, however so is domestic production. In 2008, energy consumption in the United States exceeded 104.5 exajoules, with 78.1 exajoules produced domestically, and imports supplying the remainder of demand. For comparison, Canada consumed 14.8 exajoules and produced 20.4 exajoules in 2006. Nearly all the oil Canada produced but did not consume was exported to the United States. Land tenure laws in both the United States and Canada promote exploitation of energy resources. Lands managed by U.S. federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service make up roughly 43 percent of the western United States. Recently, the BLM has dramatically increased leasing for oil and gas development and has opened special renewable energy coordination offices to expedite development. Energy development on the 78 million hectares of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service has historically been limited, but recent controversial leases of oil and gas on national forest lands indicate growing pressure to develop energy resources wherever they occur.

Non-Renewable Energy

Rapid development of the rich energy resources found in western North America will likely have dramatic consequences for its vast areas with low human population density and undeveloped lands. If development continues at its current pace, the outcome will most likely be energy sprawl, resulting in a western landscape fragmented by energy infrastructure such as roads, well pads, wind towers, and transmission lines. Scientists increasingly warn of the threat posed by energy sprawl to iconic western species such as sage-grouse and pronghorn. Energy development is detrimental to many wildlife species, and the increasing demand for energy and the West’s abundant supply nearly ensures that these resources will be developed.

In the West, energy development is concentrated in five states: Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Together, personal income from employment in mining (including oil, natural gas, and coal) was 2.8 percent of total personal income in 2005 for these five states. Energy is a relatively small portion of the economy in these states, with the exception of Wyoming. The percent of total personal income from people employed in energy development is as follows: Colorado (2.2%), Montana (2.6%), New Mexico (3.1%), Wyoming (13.7%) and Utah (1.4%).

New Mexico has changed rapidly since 1970, adding almost a million people and nearly doubling in size. New Mexico’s economy also has shown strong growth: the state added more than 700,000 jobs and $41 billion in new personal income from 1970 to 2006.  Like the rest of the West, New Mexico’s economy modernized in recent decades and now more closely resembles the national economy, with a predominant mix of service and professional industries. Intensive oil and natural gas activity occurs in two parts of the state—the San Juan Basin in the northwest and the Permian Basin in the Southeast—both remote from the state’s major economic centers.

While the fossil fuel industry plays a modest economic role in terms of employment and personal income, oil and natural gas extraction is a major revenue source for New Mexico. In 2006, oil and natural gas revenue accounted for 17.9 percent of total state and local revenue and it is an important element of funding for public services such as education in the state.

New Mexico is the largest oil and natural gas producer in the Intermountain West (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), generating over $15 billion in oil and natural gas production value in 2007. The state captures value from oil and natural gas extraction mainly from production taxes and royalties. New Mexico’s effective tax rate was 13.4 percent in 2007, ranking behind only Wyoming in the region. In 2007, Oil and natural gas extraction generated 18 percent of all state and local government revenue.

For more information please visit our Oil and Gas page.

Renewable Energy

In addition to being rich in fossil fuels, New Mexico has abundant potential for renewable energy development. Renewable energy forms available in New Mexico include: biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind.

Bio-energy is produced by combustion of non-fossil biological raw material or other products made from such raw materials. This raw material may be either produced or harvested explicitly for such use, such as grain milo and firewood, or may be a waste stream from agricultural, municipal or industrial sources. The waste stream bio-energy resource in New Mexico has been studied in detail. The total potential for energy production in this sector is large, at 35 trillion Btu per year, although a large share of this resource is allocated for other uses such as particleboard manufacture. The largest sources in this sector are sawmill/ wood product waste and municipal solid waste.

Wood-burning for heating is perhaps the oldest and most traditional use of bio-energy in New Mexico. The best available research on New Mexico fuel-wood indicates that 197,000 cords were harvested in 1986. Unfortunately, 1986 is the last year for which detailed data on fuel-wood harvesting is available. Juniper, Pinon and Ponderosa pine were the most harvested species at that time.

Rapid growth of the New Mexico dairy industry has greatly increased the production of manure in New Mexico. The State of New Mexico is working with the U.S. Department of Energy and Dairy Producers of New Mexico, a local dairy trade organization, to develop a project involving the use of a bioreactor to produce methane from this waste. The New Mexico dairy industry produces 1.15 million tons of manure annually - a potential source of methane gas for energy.

Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy is simply heat that is extracted from the ground. The use of geothermal energy dates back to primitive humans, who bathed in hot springs. Modern uses of geothermal energy are now more high-tech and useful. They include heat exchange systems, "heat pumps", and even large scale power plants. New Mexico is a leader in using the Earth’s energy for space heating, having many direct-use facilities where low to moderate temperature geothermal resources provide heat for greenhouses, fish hatcheries, swimming pools, and therapeutic baths at spas and resorts. A large district heating system has provided space heat and domestic hot water to a portion of New Mexico State University at Las Cruces for many years. To date, New Mexico has one geothermal electric power plant, a 500-kWe binary unit supplying electricity to a large, geothermally heated greenhouse. Geologists have identified several other attractive prospects, particularly the Jemez Mountains in the north-central part of the state, that could support more than 20 MWe of power.

Gross receipts from more than 50 acres of geothermal greenhouses in New Mexico exceed $30 million annually, and from 6 to 12 people are employed per acre at these green- houses. DOE invests about $5 million of research and development funds annually in the state, primarily at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, to promote wider use of our valuable geothermal resources.

Solar Energy

The technical potential of the solar resource in New Mexico alone is enormous: it is enough to produce more electricity than the entire country uses. Solar energy naturally coincides to an extent with our patterns of electric demand, peaking at mid-day and during the summer months. It can be cost-effectively matched to energy storage and, for the desert Southwest states, it can be developed close to population and industrial centers, without the need for long, expensive transmission lines. Despite these advantages, solar energy development lagged due to high costs and lack of sufficient investment on the part of our utilities. In 2007, Ben R. Lujan and Public Regulation Commissioner (PRC) Jason Marks enacted PRC rules requiring New Mexico utilities to deploy utility-scale solar projects and to support customer-sited solar-distributed generation. In 2007, NM had about 200 kilowatts (KW) of solar electricity in the state, powering about 100 homes. Today, the results of our solar rules are becoming apparent. Over 2,000 homeowners and business participate in solar “REC” (renewable energy certificate) incentive programs mandated by the PRC, producing their own clean energy in the Albuquerque area, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, and even eastern NM. On the utility side, in 2012, New Mexico has 150 MW of solar generation in operation, under construction, or contracted for construction. Together, this is enough solar electricity to fully supply 55,000 homes.

Recent solar development in NM has focused on photovoltaic (PV) technology, the now-familiar panels that convert photons, carrying solar energy directly into electricity without any moving parts. The less well-known form of solar technology is solar thermal (also known as concentrating solar power or CSP). Most solar thermal power plants use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat and then use the heat to make steam that can turn a power-generating turbine. This technology was pioneered at Sandia Labs in the 1970s, leading to commercial-scale demonstrations in California’s Mojave Desert in the 1980s that operate with outstanding reliability to this day. Over the past decade, the hub of solar thermal activity has been in southern Spain, with one of the main goals being the development of energy storage that can turn solar energy into a dispatchable source of electricity.

New Mexico has taken aggressive actions and adopted substantive policy measures to stimulate development of utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) projects throughout the state. Those initiatives, combined with New Mexico’s second-in-the-nation, world-class solar energy resource, have effectively positioned the state as a focal point for this rapidly emerging industry – both in terms of operating CSP facilities and CSP-related component manufacturing. Straddling the eastern and western transmission interconnects, New Mexico is ideally located to export CSP power to out-of-state markets, driven by other states' Renewable Portfolio Standards and the likelihood of the future need for carbon-neutral electric power generation.

The economic viability of solar power is advancing rapidly. It is already more than competitive within certain markets, and the price of solar panels saw a precipitous decline over the last four years. The latest evidence of solar power’s rise comes via Bloomberg: El Paso Electric Co., a southwestern utility, who has agreed to purchase electricity from a New Mexico solar project owned by the solar panel manufacturer First Solar, for a price lower than the going rate for coal. Click here for the February 3rd, 2013 article about this development.

Wind Energy
New Mexico is blessed with substantial raw natural resources of wind and solar power. During the past decade, renewable energy development focused on wind energy, both in our state and nationally. Between 2000 and 2010, the amount of installed wind generation capacity in the U.S. increased from around 2,000 megawatts (MW) to over 40,000 MW. New Mexico saw 700 MW of wind capacity installed during this period, enough to supply the power needs of more than 200,000 homes, assuming optimal wind conditions. Wind power’s leading role in the renewable world is largely due to its relatively low costs, comparable at times to the costs of fossil fuel (natural gas) generated electricity. Currently, New Mexico has a total of 750 megawatts of wind power capacity installed at nine wind power plants. The first utility-scale wind power plant in New Mexico, near House, began operation in July 2003. Known as the New Mexico Wind Energy Center, it is 204 megawatts in capacity. All of its generated electricity is purchased by PNM. Energy produced at the New Mexico Wind Energy Center will replace an equivalent amount of power coming from facilities powered by coal and gas. Wind now comprises approximately ten percent of PNM's overall electrical energy sold in New Mexico.

The potential for electricity generation from wind is enormous in some areas of New Mexico, especially on the eastern plains. New Mexico ranks twelfth in wind electric potential and is among twelve states in the midsection of the country that, together, have 90% of the total commercial wind electric potential in the contiguous United States. The annual wind energy potential of New Mexico has been estimated to be 435 billion kWh. New Mexico has the potential to produce many times its own electrical consumption, which puts it in a position to export wind electric power.

With New Mexico’s plentiful sources of available renewable energy, there is abundant opportunity to decrease use of fossil fuels in the state and yield substantial economic and environmental benefits by utilizing geothermal, solar and wind energy methods.

The Valley Vidal- Valley of Abundant Life

On June 14, 1985 during the dedication of the Valle Vidal as a unit of the Carson National Forest, US Forest Service Chief Max Peterson told the assembled dignitaries, government employees, and ranching neighbors that the Forest Services would manage the unit to protect its prime resource – its wildlife.

Located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico, the Valle Vidal is home to a magnificent array of wildlife, including 60 species of mammals, 33 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 15 varieties of fish. In addition to being a home and calving ground to the State’s largest elk herd, the Valle Vidal contains mountain lion, turkey, buffalo, and the native Río Grande cutthroat trout.

The Valle Vidal also comprises the headwaters of the Río Costilla in the Río Grande watershed, and numerous streams in the Arkansas River drainage. As a source of fresh water, wildlife, firewood, and grazing, the Valle Vidal is an important resource base for the agrarian communities of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. With its hiking trails, ponds, lakes and grazing lands, the Valle Vidal is a special place for hunters, anglers, ranchers, boy scouts, hikers, skiers, wildlife viewers, photographers, and tourists from across the nation.

In December 2006, thanks to the efforts of the Coalition for the Valle Vidal, President Bush signed legislation that prohibited oil drilling and mining in the Valle Vidal.

Destruction of the Valle Vidal would have not only irreparably harmed wildlife populations and obliterated one of New Mexico’s most spectacular vistas, but would have impacted the rural economy that depends upon the Valle Vidal – from ranchers to outfitters to the 3,000 Boy Scouts who camp each year within the Valle Vidal’s meadows.

With the realization that coalbed methane production would disrupt the healthy ecosystem of the Valle, as well as the activities of the many human users of the site, the Coalition for the Valle Vidal worked to protect the 40,000 acres at risk to energy development. With six million acres of the Raton Basin already under production, we sought to ‘set aside’ this special place, and protect the Valle Vidal from all energy development, now and in the future.

On a broader scale, our effort is part of a national movement to reform our national energy policy. Currently, this policy strives to shut the public out of the process, fails to hold public agencies and industries accountable for impacts on the environment and surrounding communities, and in most cases, makes the de facto assumption that energy production is the most important use of public lands. Protecting Valle Vidal was a tremendous opportunity for New Mexicans to unequivocally state that public lands are held in trust for all Americans – not just the highest bidders.

Coalition for the Valle Vidal

In 2004, Amigos Bravos and a small group of partners established the Coalition for the Valle Vidal in order to mount an aggressive campaign to defeat Bush administration plans to fast-track coalbed methane (CBM) drilling in the pristine Valle Vidal area of the Carson National Forest. Amigos Bravos serves as chair of the Coalition Steering Committee and is the Coalition’s fiscal agent. The Coalition includes over 400 New Mexico local governments, private businesses, and community organizations, as well as more than 70,000 individuals throughout the political spectrum across New Mexico and the USA.

We worked to halt El Paso Corporation’s plans to drill the Valle Vidal, force the Forest Service to adopt a Citizen Alternative for the Valle Vidal management plan, and ensure that the Valle Vidal was permanently protected by Congress from extractive industry. We have had considerable success, as evidenced by the over 70,000 letters sent to the Forest Service and the adoption of legislation introduced by Representative Udall and Senator Bingaman to permanently withdraw the Valle Vidal from extractive industry. To achieve these successes, we are pursued multiple options to blunt or prevent the Forest Service from opening up the Valle Vidal to coalbed methane leases and drilling. These included:

– Building a large and diverse constituency to apply public pressure on the New Mexico Congressional delegation and the Forest Service to provide permanent protection for the Valle Vidal. Instituting regulatory roadblocks to drilling by nominating McCrystal and North Ponil creeks for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Valle Vidal as a Traditional Cultural Property under the Historic Preservation Act, as well as working with Representative Udall and Senator Bingaman to win passage of their bills to permanently withdraw the Valle Vidal from extractive industry

– Producing legal and technical reports, fact sheets, and power point presentations to bolster the economic, cultural, and social arguments for permanent protection, to educate the public and decision-makers regarding environmental and economic impacts from coalbed methane development, and to develop a Citizen’s Alternative to drilling.

Coal-bed Methane

Coalbed methane development involves pumping off large amounts of water trapped in coal seams with methane gas. The process of extracting the gas includes building well pads, roads, pipeline corridors, and associated facilities like compressor stations and dehydration units. Other problems associated with coalbed methane development include the injection of hazardous chemicals into our aquifers during drilling processes; soil and groundwater contamination from toxic waste pits; the massive depletion of water from coal seams; subsidence; the leaking of methane at the surface, which impacts wildlife; and pipeline and well explosions, such as occurred in Carlsbad, NM, in March 2004. Under current guidelines, gas producers are not held liable for many damages effecting public health and safety, or the environment.

Coalbed methane development is already having devastating effects in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin and all across the western United States, where companies are scraping bare large swaths of land and contaminating air, soil and water resources with toxic, hazardous, and carcinogenic materials.