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Methane plan offered by industry

Methane is flared in March 2018 at a natural gas gathering facility west of Jal in southeastern New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association extended an olive branch to state regulators Monday, offering concrete suggestions on how to lower methane emissions in industry operations.

The proposals, which the Association called a “methane mitigation roadmap,” pinpoints production processes that contribute the most to emissions while outlining regulatory measures to reduce leakage.

Industry leaders said the document reflects an effort to work collaboratively with the Environment and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources departments, which are creating new rules and regulations under a January executive order by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to control emissions.

“Gov. Lujan Grisham challenged the industry to step up and be proactive and identify solutions, and we’ve taken that collaborative spirit and challenge to heart,” said NMOGA Executive Director Ryan Flynn. “We’re coming to the table to engage in a meaningful way through a solution-oriented and forward-looking approach.”

NMOGA’s roadmap says most emissions come from leaky equipment and infrastructure, plus venting from storage tanks and pneumatic devices, as well as gas that escapes when operators manually force liquids out of wells. To address those things, the association suggests mandatory annual inspections to detect leaks and repair them with exemptions for low-producing wells and facilities, replacement of high-emitting pneumatic devices, new storage tank controls, and on-site monitoring of manual liquid-unloading operations.

Flynn said those are “best practices” that significantly lower emissions when implemented by industry, including sharp reductions already achieved in New Mexico. Based on Environmental Protection Agency data, NMOGA estimates that emissions have declined 51 percent in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico from 2011 to 2017, and 35 percent in the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico.

Environmental groups, however, said NMOGA is advocating a minimalist approach to reducing emissions that would have very little impact.

“NMOGA’s proposal, if enacted, would fall far short of the bar set by Gov. Lujan Grisham for nationally-leading methane rules,” said Jon Goldstein, the Environmental Defense Fund’s director of regulatory and legislative affairs.

The EDF also rejects NMOGA claims about methane reductions since 2011, because EPA data severely under reports emissions, Goldstein said. In contrast, an EDF study in April calculated state emissions at more than 1 million tons of methane annually, or more than five times higher than NMOGA’s estimates.

Given the huge variations in opposing emission estimates from industry and environmental groups, state regulators say they will use their own data to establish new regulations.

“We’re basing the rule-making process on the numbers we have internally, because we can’t validate other people’s studies,” said Oil Conservation Division Director Adrienne Sandoval. “They’re either too opaque or they have limited detail.”

The ED and EMNRD will hold three public meetings this summer in Farmington, Albuquerque and Carlsbad to collect input on forthcoming regulations.


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