Long days roaming the halls of the New Mexico Legislature, shaking hands with lawmakers and sitting through hours of committee meetings never deterred Jack Chatfield in his quest to clarify a property right that could someday prove valuable in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The northeastern New Mexico rancher and his legislation simply ran out of time.
The bill would have established ownership rights for empty spaces deep underground. Supporters of the measure say the so-called pore space will be valuable as technology advances to capture and store emissions from fossil-fuel power plants and other industries.
The bill needed to be considered one last time by the full Senate so it could be sent to the governor. However, it was lost in the frenzied crunch just before adjournment.
"We had worked so hard for two years to come up with this," Chatfield said Monday, after returning to his Mosquero ranch and his job doing restoration work along the nearby Canadian River.
"We thought we had done the job at hand, which was to come up with legislation that gave ownership of pore space to the surface owner, where it belongs, and still protect the rights of all those involved. To lose it just to the time clock, it's disheartening," he said.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Clint Harden of Clovis, called the outcome a "huge disappointment."
Wyoming and other Western states have clarified pore space ownership rights, and supporters are concerned that New Mexico will now be behind as the potential for carbon capture and storage advances.
Without the legislation, Harden said pore space ownership may have to be settled by courts and New Mexico could miss out on federal research and development dollars.
The U.S. Department of Energy has said carbon sequestration is one of the most promising ways for reducing the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Obama administration has pledged $4 billion for carbon capture and storage research.
The New Mexico Senate narrowly passed the pore space bill midway through the session after a lengthy debate about property rights, impacts on oil and gas development and unknowns surrounding the injection of large amounts of carbon dioxide in voids a half-mile underground.
The House overwhelmingly passed the measure with one day to go, but not before making changes that the Senate would have to agree with before sending the bill to the governor.
"The timing was just really one of those strange things," Harden said, explaining that it was one of the next bills to be considered but senators got sidetracked with an unrelated debate that ran out the legislative clock.
Harden said he was hopeful Gov. Bill Richardson, an advocate for clean energy initiatives, would consider putting the matter on the agenda for a special session that begins Wednesday.
Lawmakers have been called back to the Capitol because they failed to pass a state budget plan before the end of the 30-day session.
The language of the pore space bill was massaged over the last couple of weeks to address concerns from the oil and gas industry and others. Harden said people on both sides found consensus.
"To think we have to go through it all over again is disappointing," he said.
Like Harden, Chatfield said the legislation is worth it and he vowed not to give up.
"It will cost us another year of work, but if that's what it takes, then that's what it takes," he said.