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Editorial: NM needs more than an old pic to regulate methane

“We can pinpoint emissions down to 20 feet or so from the source to actually see where the leak is coming from. It will be the largest comprehensive survey of methane leaks in an oil field ever done.”

– Kairos co-founder and CEO Steve Deiker

New Mexico has been relying on a 2014 NASA snapshot of the Four Corners when it comes to the issue of methane emissions. And while NASA identified oil and gas field venting, flaring and leaks as the source in 2016, there are those who have blamed natural seeps from underground formations and coal mining operations, as well as bovine burps at the many dairies across the state.

And while environmentalists maintain producers are wasting about $275 million in natural gas annually through leaking, venting and flaring, industry representatives say companies have been systematically reducing emissions on their own.

So finally having a method to provide current, specific data as to the origin of what has been touted as a cloud the size of Delaware over the Four Corners, as well as methane emissions over the booming Permian Basin in the southeast, is essential to getting to the bottom of both the source of pollution as well as lost state royalties.

Unfortunately, that comprehensive survey Kairos is doing is proprietary and targeted for sale to industry customers.

That puts New Mexicans, who breathe the air and rely on that revenue, at a disadvantage. And it could result in over-regulating/mis-regulating the unknown, hurting industry and state coffers simultaneously.

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney says the state will examine all available sources, including satellite feed and possible aerial surveys. The department did an unprecedented on-the-ground air quality inspection sweep of 98 sites last month. But that sweep simply made sure operators had their permits in order.

Kenney and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst have been tasked with coming up with a new regulatory framework for reducing methane emissions. They will be regulating in the dark if they don’t know for sure how much methane is being released, or from where.

Deiker says fewer than 4% of oil and gas operating sites are contributing about 80% of the emissions (just over a third of his company’s aerial survey of the state is complete). And Kairos has every right to use its data as it sees fit; it’s a business, after all, and invested in the technology that is making it available.

But if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is really serious about making a difference rather than a feel-good zero-emissions statement, and if industry wants regulations it can live with – and preferably thrive under – the state needs to partner with private-sector companies like Kairos to pinpoint the state’s methane sources – be they from oil and gas, the landscape or dairies – so regulators have a clear picture of what to do next.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.