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Methane rules up for debate as drilling booms in New Mexico

By June 25, 2019September 29th, 2022Water Quality & Land Restoration, Climate & Energy
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants New Mexico to craft its own rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas development as the rollback of federal regulations remains tangled in a legal fight.
The industry says it has a roadmap that will help. Environmentalists argue the proposals aren’t enough.
The battle lines are being drawn as regulators prepare for what could be a rancorous process this summer in a state where government coffers ebb and flow with the pace of drilling and market prices. The current oil boom in the Permian Basin, which straddles New Mexico and Texas, has resulted in record production and a budget surplus that’s expected to top $1.2 billion.
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association released its plan for reducing emissions Monday, saying its members are willing to work with government to strike a balance that will allow the industry to grow while reducing emissions.
“It’s a responsibility we take personally,” executive director Ryan Flynn said.
A group made up of small and large producers first gathered about a year ago to begin creating the roadmap. They considered regulations adopted in neighboring Colorado, Wyoming and elsewhere.
The roadmap identifies leaky equipment and other infrastructure as one of the causes for methane emissions.
The industry group is recommending an annual leak detection and repair program, the replacement of pneumatic devices, new controls for storage tanks and onsite monitoring of some operations.
The state’s environment and energy agencies plan to review the group’s recommendations. The agencies also have scheduled three public meetings this summer to gather more comments as part of the rulemaking process.
National and local environmental groups say they’re working on their own recommendations to submit to the state and that the association’s plan would be among the weakest in the nation.
“New Mexico is the third highest oil and gas producing state and because of that, New Mexicans deserve a rule that will meaningfully address the pollution that comes with that distinction,” said Ben Shelton with Conservation Voters New Mexico.
Last fall, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era rule that forced energy companies to capture methane. Within hours, Democratic attorneys general in New Mexico and California filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to reinstate the previous rule.
More than 50 Democratic lawmakers filed a legal brief last week, suggesting the rollback greenlighted the waste of a publicly-owned natural resource.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said New Mexico loses nearly $43 million annually in royalty revenues from methane leaks. Fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said modernizing equipment to reduce leaks would allow companies to capture and sell more gas.
Industry officials say producers already are taking steps and that emissions have decreased despite more activity in the Permian Basin.
They pointed to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that shows methane emissions from oil and gas production in the state dropped by more than 50% between 2011 and 2017. Environmental groups argue the data underestimates state-level emissions.
The New Mexico Environment Department earlier this year launched an online map to track emissions from the 4,000 wells and tank batteries regulated by its air quality bureau. Officials plan to add pipelines, compressor stations and other sites as they gather more data.