New Mexico rolls out draft rules to cut methane emissions

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico regulators on Monday rolled out proposed rules aimed at reducing methane and other emissions from the oil and gas industry.

The draft rules released by the New Mexico Environment Department target oil and natural gas equipment that emit volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. State officials said regulating these emissions also will result reducing methane emissions.

Proposed rules released by the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department address waste due to venting and flaring in the oilfield.

The proposed regulations are the culmination of a dozen meetings, hours of discussion and technical presentations by scientists, environmentalists and experts in the industry.

The effort began last year as oil production was on pace to break more records and the state was awash in revenue from the boom in the Permian Basin — one of the most prolific plays in the United States. However, the industry now is looking to recover following a historic drop in prices that has been exacerbated by economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

State Environment Department Secretary James Kenney said the rules use the best available science and employ innovative solutions to what he called a pressing environmental issue.

Environmentalists call the rules a step in the right direction.

Thomas Singer with the Western Environmental Law Center said the proposed regulations are still being reviewed to ensure that any exemptions are appropriately limited to prevent loopholes that would undermine the purpose of the rules and that low-producing wells and smaller facilities are covered.

State officials said the New Mexico Environment Department and the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department worked together throughout the process to ensure the draft rules are complementary and don’t result in redundant or conflicting requirements.

The agencies are planning a virtual public meeting on the rules on Aug. 6.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association has said its members are committed to reducing emissions while still providing a sustainable source of energy and that the industry will continue to share technical and scientific expertise with state regulators.

“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,” said Ryan Flynn, the association’s executive director.