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Industry, enviros disagree on rules

Kairos Aerospace’s patented camera technology, attached to the wing of a Cessna aircraft, uses a methane spectrometer together with GPS-backed optical imaging to precisely map emissions and identify the source. (Courtesy of Kairos Aerospace)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Oil fields in southeast New Mexico look a little different from 3,000 feet.

Kairos Aerospace flies Cessna airplanes over oil and natural gas sites, measuring methane concentrations. The company’s industry clients use the data and aerial photos to find and fix methane leaks.

Last year, Kairos Aerospace surveyed 95% of the active wells in the Permian Basin of New Mexico.

“The manned aircraft may not be as flashy or trendy as a drone, but in terms of cost effectiveness and ability to fly all day, cover wide areas and collect a lot of data, it can’t be beat,” said Ryan Streams, the company’s business development manager.

Oil and gas operators could be rewarded for using technology to fix methane leaks, under regulations in the works by two of New Mexico’s regulatory agencies.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas. Operators vent or flare excess gas as a safety measure or because of limited pipeline infrastructure.

The draft rule from the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department would require operators to meet a 98% gas-capture rate by the end of 2026. Tiffany Polak, deputy director of EMNRD’s Oil Conservation Division, said the rule is flexible on the inspection frequency for stripper wells, which “produce at lower volumes and operate on a thin margin of economic viability.”

“We feel that is important because of their marginal nature, and also because they’re not the largest contributor to the venting and flaring problem that we have,” Polak said.

Companies who don’t meet yearly gas-capture targets could receive credit for monitoring and fixing leaks.

The New Mexico Environment Department proposal targets methane and other air pollutants with equipment updates.

At a public listening session hosted by the agencies on Thursday, environmental groups said the draft rules have too many loopholes.

Most voiced concerns about exemptions for low-producing wells and sites that emit less than 15 tons of volatile organic compounds per year.

“These exemptions disproportionately affect children as well as Navajo and Latino communities who are much more likely to live within a mile of a well in oil and gas producing counties,” said Celerah Hewes with the Moms Clean Air Force.

Companies like Kairos Aerospace focus on finding big methane leaks.

“A handful of sites drive most of the emissions,” Streams said. “If you find a way to address the handful of outliers by quickly making a few repairs, you can eliminate a majority of emissions. You couldn’t say that no methane comes from smaller wells, but the trend we’ve seen is that they’re not responsible for most emissions.”

A representative from the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County said the rules would make it difficult to recruit oil and gas businesses to New Mexico, adding that companies may choose instead to drill in Texas.

EMNRD draft rule: email EMNRD.WasteRule@state.nm.us”>href=”http://EMNRD.Was”>EMNRD.WasteRule@state.nm.us or mail to Tiffany Polak, 3rd Floor, Wendell Chino Building, 1220 South St. Francis Drive, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87505

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