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NM work on methane rules proceeds

A Carlsbad Municipal Schools bus waits in traffic near flaring oil and gas wells along Laguna Road in Carlsbad in September. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico will proceed with the development of methane regulations for oil and natural gas operations, even as the industry faces unprecedented challenges in the global market.

The New Mexico Environment Department and the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department discussed the efforts at a virtual public meeting Tuesday. Members of the Methane Advisory Panel, a team that produced technical reports about industry operations and emissions, also presented.

The agencies said they should have draft rules this summer.

“With us in our current situation navigating low commodity prices, it can be difficult to make (retrofits) economic, and that needs to be considered in the regulations as we move forward,” said Ryan Davis, a MAP member who represents Merrion Oil and Gas Corp in the San Juan Basin. “At the end of the day, the industry wants to reduce emissions to the greatest extent possible, but we also want to operate efficiently. These regulations should be aligned with a site’s potential to emit.”

NMED regulates methane as an air pollutant. EMNRD regulates the gas as an industry waste product.

“We require operators to report venting and flaring … but right now we’re lacking additional data quality, things that tell us why the operator vented or flared,” said Adrienne Sandoval, director of the state’s Oil Conservation Division. “We’re also looking at ways to share data among agencies, because operators likely don’t want to report the same number in two different forms.”

This week, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association released a report titled “Flaring in the Oilfield.” Flaring burns natural gas to prevent unsafe buildup or to dispose of excess product.

NMOGA executive director Ryan Flynn said the industry is investing in infrastructure and maintenance technologies to reduce the amount of natural gas flared.

“The industry position is that the regulations should set standards and requirements that focus on meeting (emission reduction) goals rather than stifle innovation by prescribing a particular technology or program to do it,” Flynn said. “This is an area where so much development is occurring right now, and it’s just getting better and more accurate.”

In the report, NMOGA presents emissions reduction strategies, including requiring a gas capture plan from operators and changing the allowed flaring period at new wells from 60 days to 30 days.

Some presenters said the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for strong methane regulations.

“This respiratory virus shines a bright light on our air quality,” said Mario Atencio, a MAP member who represents the Chaco Coalition. “We need to trap emissions at the source.”

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