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New Mexico adopts rules to curb emissions from oil industry

March 25, 2021 GMT

Associated Press (AP) — New Mexico oil and gas regulators on Thursday adopted new rules to limit most venting and flaring in the oilfield as a way to reduce methane emissions.

The Oil Conservation Commission took the final vote, bringing to a close a two-year process that involved testimony from environmental advocates and technical experts from the oil and gas industry. Virtual public hearings also were held.

“I think this is a huge day for New Mexico,” Adrienne Sandoval, director of the state Oil Conservation Division, said after the unanimous vote.

State officials are billing the rules as some of the strongest gas capture requirements in the nation. Unlike other states, New Mexico’s rules also apply to the midstream sector, which collects natural gas from wells for processing.

State officials and other supporters also say the rules encourage innovation in the industry and will spur job creation for a new industry focused on methane tracking and control.

The first phase of implementation will include data collection and reporting to identify natural gas losses at every stage of the process. Once this information is in hand, regulators will then require operators — from those that manage pipelines to stripper wells and other infrastructure — to capture more gas each year. The target will be capturing 98% of all natural gas waste by the end of 2026.

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If operators fail to meet the state’s targets, regulators can deny drilling permits.

Sarah Cottrell Propst, head of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said the rule-making process has been long and thorough.

“The 98% capture is an ambitious target that will secure significant methane waste reductions that will directly benefit New Mexico’s environment,” she said in a statement. “Oil and gas operations make up the biggest portion of greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico and the rules established today will lead to reductions across the board beginning in 2022.”

The rules are one part of a two-pronged approach by the state to address climate change. Still pending are rules being drafted by the state Environment Department that would target oilfield equipment that emits methane, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.

Michael Jensen with Conservation Voters New Mexico said the oil commission listened to many residents from communities that border New Mexico’s oil and gas basins.

“We are hopeful that the Environment Department will take the next step and propose comprehensive rules regulating leaks from oil and gas facilities,” he said in a statement.

The Environment Department has indicated the proposed rules could come before regulators in May, with a public hearing likely in the fall.