Green Guide

New Mexico begins public meeting on proposed methane rules

Posted January 4, 2021 12:28 p.m. EST

FILE - In this April 24, 2015, file photo, pumpjacks work in a field near Lovington, N.M. Oil and gas development infused $2.8 billion into New Mexico coffers during the 2020 fiscal year and marked its second-highest total revenue ever reported despite a global price war and plummeting demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

— New Mexico oil and gas regulators on Monday kicked off a public hearing on proposed rules for managing venting and flaring by the industry, as environmentalists, residents and some religious leaders said the practices are affecting the environment and resulting in lost royalties and revenues for the state.

Oil and gas revenues underpin the state’s budget, but Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised that her administration would adopt some of the toughest rules in the U.S. for cracking down on methane and other emissions. Under the proposal, operators would need to reduce their waste by a fixed amount every year to achieve an ultimate gas capture rate of 98% by December 2026.

Environmentalists are concerned about loopholes, saying the state should prohibit all venting and flaring.

Nicholas King, pastor of a Mennonite church in Carlsbad — one of the southeastern New Mexico cities in the heart of the Permian Basin — told members of the Oil Conservation Commission during the online meeting that people in his community continue to see pollution from the industry and that new drilling permits should not be allowed if operators aren't following the rules.

“We all dislike more regulations but sometimes they’re necessary,” he said.

Teachers and retired educators also testified that the industry is important for funding New Mexico schools and that capturing more gas rather than venting it could result in millions of dollars more each year that could be funneled to classrooms.

Others talked about climate change and blamed the industry for more than half of the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

Democratic state Rep. Joanne Ferrary of Las Cruces echoed concerns about lost revenues and said climate change is affecting agricultural production in the state, particularly in her district in southern New Mexico.

Representatives of the oil and gas industry have argued that operations already are taking advantage of new technology to reduce emissions. Industry officials are expected to make opening statements Tuesday when the hearing continues.

New Mexico's effort to build a new regulatory system for methane pollution began nearly two years ago and involved a special committee of experts that hosted hours of discussion and technical presentations by scientists, environmentalists and other industry experts.

The rules being considered by the Oil Conservation Commission deal specifically with waste due to venting and flaring in oilfields. Separate rules drafted by the state Environment Department are aimed at oil and gas equipment that emit volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. Officials say regulating these emissions also will result in reducing methane pollution.

The rules under consideration by the commission would prohibit routine venting and flaring and require operators to report emissions at every stage. Those who miss their targets could be prevented from drilling new wells and may face enforcement actions.

Environmentalists said Monday that enforcement of the rules, if adopted, would be key in holding operators accountable and that the state needs to strengthen its reporting requirements. Some also called for a quicker timetable for the industry to meet the requirements.

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