State releases final rule to reduce methane emissions, flaring

Natural gas is flared near homes in Carlsbad in September 2019. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department has released a final proposed rule to reduce natural gas waste and methane emissions in New Mexico oil fields. Under the rule, operators would be required to capture 98% of gas by the end of 2026.

Sarah Cottrell Propst, EMNRD secretary, said hitting that “ambitious” target would help the environment.

“Throughout the process we have promised a nation-leading rule,” Cottrell Propst said. “Today we have fulfilled that goal.”

If adopted, the rule would require operators to report venting and flaring data in 2021. That data would inform how much each company must improve yearly gas capture rates to meet the target.

Operators usually vent or flare excess natural gas for safety reasons or because they lack the infrastructure to make transporting the gas profitable.

The oil and gas sector accounts for 62% of the state’s methane emissions, according to a 2019 state climate change task force report.

Stripper wells, or low-producing wells, would have some flexibility for inspections and equipment retrofitting. But those sites would still need to meet the 98% gas capture goal.

If the Oil Conservation Commission decides to hold a public hearing on the final proposed rule, that would likely take place Jan. 5, 2021.

Robert McEntyre, spokesperson for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the industry is committed to engaging in the rule-making process.

“We look forward to continuing to share our technical and scientific expertise and welcome the opportunity to further discuss how we can achieve the objective of a 98% gas capture rate and reduce emissions together,” McEntyre said. “However, we are concerned that the hearing will begin on the same day comments are due, and the commission may not have adequate time to consider valuable feedback. We hope the commission will reconsider this scheduling anomaly in order to hear from operators, stakeholders and other interested New Mexicans.”

The state received more than 500 comments this summer on a draft version of the rule.

The state could levy fines or withhold drilling permits for companies that don’t meet targets. Those companies could also be forced to shut in wells. Operators could receive credit for finding and fixing natural gas leaks.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


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