New Mexico still lacks accurate oil and gas air pollution data

  • New Mexico enacted new rules in 2021 to reduce air pollution from oil and gas production.
  • The state has sought to collect emissions data from operators so it can set annual targets
  • While many companies correctly reported their emissions, several did not file reports.

Oil and gas regulators in New Mexico have struggled to collect accurate data on industry methane emissions as the state implements new regulations meant to prevent natural gas waste and pollution. pollution.

In May 2021, the Petroleum Conservation Division (OCD) of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) promulgated the new rules after years of public meetings and input from local leaders, environmentalists and industry officials.

The new rules prohibit the routing of venting and flaring when excess natural gas is released into the air and require all oil and gas operators in New Mexico to capture 98% of produced gas by 2026 .

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To that end, the OCD began collecting emissions data in October 2021 from operators across the state, in the Southeast Permian Basin region and the Northwest San Juan Basin, in the aim to define individual reference emission rates for each operator and annual targets towards the 2026 requirement.

Adrienne Sandoval was hired in April as director of the New Mexico Petroleum Conservation Division.

“The first phase of the rule was really about capturing and collecting data,” said OCD director Adrienne Sandoval. “OCD needed better data. The first phase consisted of a lot of data collection and reporting.

The deadlines for companies to submit quarterly reports were February 15 and May 16, and should have included the amount of gas vented or flared from wells, completing the program’s first data collection phase.

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The second phase began this month, according to a Thursday announcement from the OCD, and will involve operators taking steps to meet annual targets over the next four years.

Yet many operators continued to delay reporting their data to the state, or provided data that appeared to be inaccurate, OCD reported, meaning the agency planned to use third-party companies to audit oil and gas emissions.

“The audits requested by OCD today are somewhat represented by both company size and geographic location and will likely inform subsequent data assessments,” said REMDR General Council Dylan Fuge, during Thursday’s announcement. “We have quite a wide discretion to trigger a third-party audit. It will depend on what was provided and the context.

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The OCD said it was requiring 10 companies to retain the services of state-certified auditors because the reports received so far concerned the regulator.

Seventy-four letters were sent to operators who reported gas capture rates of over 100%, which Sandoval said was “not physically possible”.

If this is not corrected by the companies, the OCD could require more independent audits.

Nine Notices of Violation (NOVs) were sent to operators who failed to file their second quarterly report in May, along with warning letters to 154 operators.

There were about 600 operators in the state, Sandoval said, meaning about a quarter of oil and gas operators in the state were asked to double-check their numbers.

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Two operators reported gas capture rates below 60%, records show, and the OCD gave them 30 days to increase gas capture to comply with state requirements and avoid possible fines.

Despite its difficulties with data collection, the OCD reported that operators correctly reporting their emissions accounted for 98.9% of the natural gas produced in New Mexico.

“I think we recognize some potential issues with the data,” Sandoval said. “What we’ve found is that the majority of the percentage of gas produced in the state is reported. All the big operators, the big operators, are reporting. We still have operators who are not reporting .

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The rules do not specify how an operator must achieve the 98% gas capture rate it needs, allowing flexibility in the technology used or operational adjustments to meet the state’s goal.

All it takes is for them to increase their gas capture rates every year, Sandoval said.

“We will have to certify that the gas capture targets are met each year,” she said. “We don’t tell operators how you get your gas capture percentage. There may be consequences if you fail to do so, and you must report and prove that you did.

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The OCD is still studying the data it has received so far, and Sandoval was unsure which basin — the Permian or San Juan — had the most emissions and where, geographically, the app would likely be targeted.

She said she expected more gas capture in the San Juan area because that area is primarily a natural gas field, which means gas capture is already integrated into the business models of the most operators.

In the Permian, most of the oil is produced with associated gas brought up accidentally from underground.

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That could mean, Sandoval said, that operators in the southeast could release more gas.

“We haven’t done a comparison between the San Juan Basin and the Permian Basin yet,” she said. “I expect there will be more gas capture in the San Juan because that’s how they do business, whereas the Southeast might be a different story.”

But despite New Mexico’s efforts to demand more air pollution control from industry, some critics have argued that state-level rules won’t affect mining operations in the states. neighbors like Texas, which shares the Permian Basin with New Mexico.

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Most oil and gas operations in Texas take place on private land, which means that if the state government adopted rules similar to those in New Mexico, they probably wouldn’t apply to most operators in the state. Texas with lots of oil and gas drilling and pumping just over the state line.

That’s why environmentalists have been advocating for tougher federal rules that could standardize air pollution requirements regardless of the state where the emissions occur.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency was developing new regulations for methane produced during oil and gas operations, expanding requirements to include reductions not only at new facilities, but also at existing sources.

This could mean that companies would be required to upgrade their wells, pipelines and other infrastructure with new technologies, like “low bleed” valves that release less gas.

“It would be great to have federal rules to reinforce what New Mexico already has,” said Kayley Shoup of the Carlsbad-based environmental group Citizens Caring for the Future. “Pollution does not follow borders.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] Where @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

Bonny J. Streater