In the era of "social distancing" and the governor's ban on mass gatherings, so many things we usually do in person have gone virtual overnight. This includes a community impacts meeting about the development of a statewide oil and natural gas methane strategy hosted by the New Mexico Environment and the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Departments.
"While our departments recognize that hosting community meetings in person is ideal, state government is committed to taking essential steps to limit the spread of the virus," the department writes in a statement.
State officials originally planned to host the meeting in Farmington on Thursday, March 19, but it will now be held via webcast instead 2-6 pm today. Participants have to register online ahead of time at the state's methane strategy website to participate. 150 people have already registered says Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for the NMED.
This will be the first time these departments have hosted a virtual meeting at this scale and state employees have been scrambling to anticipate and address the various challenges it could present under such short notice, says Hayden.
But in some ways it also opens up participation to a much broader audience.
If you are interested in learning more about the state's strategy for regulating the emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas released as a bi-product of oil and gas production, you can now do so from your living room couch anywhere in the state rather than having to drive all the way to Farmington.
Hayden tells SFR the departments posted the presentation prepared for the meeting online for participants to review ahead of time, and will be posting a recording afterwards as well.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, the public will be able to ask questions and make statements via the chat box on the screen, and will then be invited to join smaller "chat rooms" to discuss specific topics in a "virtual open house," says Hayden.
The department plans to post an interpretation of the meeting in Diné to their website afterwards.
"What we have planned is not a perfect solution…" she says, but "we are really hoping to hear back from folks afterwards about how to do this better since we will probably be meeting a lot like this in the future."
Those living in the Farmington area who do not have internet access can participate via phone.
The presentation for the meeting was planned well before the COVID19 crisis sent oil prices crashing, drastically changing the outlook for New Mexico's oil and gas industries. Hayden says the departments are anticipating questions about the impacts of the virus on oil and gas, but are hoping to stick to the original plan.
"We want to keep focused on addressing the creation of a methane regulatory framework for New Mexico, but we will be prepared to address those questions," she tells SFR.