Today the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department and the New Mexico Environment Department released their long-awaited rules to reduce methane waste and pollution from the oil and gas industry in the state. WELC’s Dr. Thomas Singer, who participated in the agency’s Methane Advisory Panel, says these rules contain some groundbreaking provisions to reduce waste and provide tough provisions to ensure enforcement.
“It’s good news that Gov. Lujan Grisham’s administration is on track to finalize the rule by the end of 2020, and upon first look it is wide-reaching, sets tough standards, and should deliver real reductions,” said Dr. Thomas Singer with the Western Environmental Law Center. “We still need to carefully go through the fine print to determine whether the rules take effect quickly enough to achieve the governor’s climate goals, and if exemptions are appropriately limited to prevent loopholes that would undermine the purpose of the rules. We also want to make sure the rules adequately limit venting of raw methane that is particularly damaging to the climate as well as routine flaring which unjustly shifts costs from oil and gas companies onto the public, and that they do not unduly exempt New Mexico’s many low-producing wells and smaller facilities which, collectively, are a significant source of methane waste and pollution.”
The rules, a key element of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s ambitious climate strategy, are comprehensive in coverage – producers as well as pipeline and processing companies will all have to rein in their waste and pollution.
The rules’ call for 98% capture and use by 2026 should yield major reductions in statewide methane emissions, in particular for companies that have performed poorly on this issue.
The methane problem in New Mexico:
The oil and gas industry is the primary cause of the Delaware-sized methane hot spot above the Four Corners. Aging oil and gas infrastructure and industry business and operating practices result in the waste of an EDF-estimated 1 million metric tons of methane per year. This is the equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of almost 30 million cars or more than 20 coal fired power plants. OCD statistics show venting increased by 56 percent and flaring increased by 117 percent in 2018. Preliminary figures for 2019 indicate that venting and flaring is continuing to grow. Over 500,000 metric tons of methane were wasted in the New Mexico Permian in 2018, 4% of total gas production, just from venting and flaring of “associated gas” produced alongside oil but not sent to market.
New Mexicans lose more than $40 million each year in royalties that operators are not required to pay for oil or gas produced on federal or state lands when they vent, flare, or leak methane rather than sell it. New Mexicans also face grave threats from rising temperatures, declining snowpack, rising wildfire danger, and other impacts brought on by a changing climate—impacts to our natural and cultural heritage and our ability to support a thriving, durable economy for all. The oil and gas industry exacerbates these threats by wasting methane, a climate pollutant more than 80 times the potency of carbon dioxide in driving climate change. Further, the same practices that cause methane waste also release volatile organic compounds. These air pollutants contribute to ozone formation, which is “linked to a wide range of health effects, including aggravated asthma, increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and premature death.” Wasteful industry practices also release air toxics such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane “suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.”