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NM releases draft methane reduction rules

Natural gas, which contains methane, is burned off at a site south of Carlsbad in September. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The New Mexico Environment Department and the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department have released draft rules aimed at reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.

Methane is a greenhouse gas and the main ingredient in natural gas.

The draft rule proposed by EMNRD sets a goal of a 98% gas capture rate in the industry by the end of 2026.

Adrienne Sandoval, director of the agency’s Oil Conservation Division, said current reporting doesn’t give a “holistic look” at how much natural gas is lost to flaring and venting.

“That’s why we designed a really robust, upfront reporting structure, so we can understand where gas is being lost throughout the value chain,” Sandoval said.

Under the proposed rule, monthly emissions data reported by companies beginning in 2021 would inform how much each company must increase their gas capture to meet the 98% requirement.

The rule would also set design standards for pipelines and monitoring equipment.

If companies don’t meet yearly gas capture requirements, the state could limit production, withhold drilling permits or assess fines.

Companies could have some leeway on those requirements if they find and fix leaks before state regulators step in.

The draft rule aims to reduce emissions but is “less prescriptive about how you get there,” Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst said.

“That’s important for industry,” she said. “They made the point to us over and over again that technologies change, and they want to be able to incorporate the latest and greatest, most efficient, cost-effective technologies.”

The draft rules were guided by technical reports from the state’s Methane Advisory Panel.

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn said new rules should build on industry solutions.

“New Mexico relies heavily upon the oil and gas industry for our state budget and funding for public schools, and it is critical that these rules allow our industry to continue to create jobs and revenue amid unprecedented economic challenges,” Flynn said.

The Environment Department’s draft rule focuses on improving equipment to reduce air pollutants, including methane.

Environment Secretary James Kenney said the rules consider that San Juan Basin sites may merit different requirements from Permian Basin sites.

Environmental groups said the draft rules put New Mexico on the right track to reducing harmful emissions.

“We appreciate the leadership in our (state) government for doing the right thing in mitigating waste and pollution in regards to methane emissions, and for including all parties in coming up with good and reasonable goals that could and should become worldwide standards,” said the Rev. Nick King, a Carlsbad pastor and member of Citizens Caring for Our Future.

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