Environmental groups criticize proposed permit changes that would do 'precious little' for methane emission regulations

Groups also criticize a four-day comment period for public input on the permit draft

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
A flaring stack is pictured near Riverview Golf Course in Kirtland in this 2017 file photo.
  • The permit authorizes owners and operators to build, modify and operate oil and gas facilities in the state.
  • Critics say the proposed changes leaves out methane emission regulations.
  • Opponents said the move is 'a gift to the oil and gas industry' from state government.

FARMINGTON — Environmental groups are criticizing Gov. Susana Martinez and the New Mexico Environment Department for a limited comment period regarding a proposed draft of what some see as “some of the weakest oil and gas air quality regulations in the country,” according to a press release from Western Environmental Law Center.

The NMED released a draft of the Air Quality General Construction Permit for Oil and Gas Facilities on Jan. 1 with an early deadline for comments of Jan. 5 in order to stimulate public comment. The final deadline to submit comments is Jan. 30, according to MNED Communications Director Allison Scott Majure.

The general permit authorizes owners or operators to construct, modify and operate oil and gas facilities in New Mexico, excluding tribal land, attainment areas, Bernalillo County and the City of Sunland Park. The permit outlines requirements specific to individual facilities and equipment used within facilities to regulate emissions, according to the draft.

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The environment department said the new permit combines two existing permits and is revised to include “improved and updated language allowing for a wider variety of equipment, control devices and operating scenarios,” according to the NMED.

However, a group of New Mexico citizen groups that submitted a letter on Jan. 5 said that the draft would call for “some of the weakest requirements in the entire country for oil and gas operators to protect air quality.” Though the permit draft includes requirements for certain pollutants — such as volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hazardous air pollutants and particulates — the draft “does precious little to limit” methane emissions and waste, according to the letter.

The groups also criticized the four-day comment period, saying the Martinez administration “is attempting to ram through a gift to the oil and gas industry … on its way out the door,” according to the letter.

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“The Environmental Department needs to expand the ridiculous four-day comment period and then significantly strengthen this draft,” Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter who co-signed the letter, said in a statement.

“This administration keeps trying to sneak through proposals that would hurt people at the behest of the drilling industry. New Mexicans didn’t fall for their anti-science curriculum, and they aren’t falling for this.”

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association communications director Robert McEntyre said the environmental groups are using the permitting updates, which he characterized as basically housekeeping, to push an agenda about methane emissions regulations.

“This idea that these general construction permits are weakened are simply untrue,” McEntyre said. “This has been a bait and switch by these environmental groups, and what this is really about is the methane regulations that these environmental groups would like to see implemented in New Mexico, essentially that they’d like to import from Colorado. … This has been a pretty egregious overreach by these environmental groups to make general construction permits that fall under the Clean Air Act something that they’re not and to try to mislead the public into making these permits about methane.” 

The NMED will hold a public hearing regarding the matter on Feb. 12 in Santa Fe, according to the letter.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

Note: This story has been modified to include the final Jan. 30 deadline for public comments. An earlier version indicated that the comment period closed earlier than Jan. 30. Comments from an oil and gas industry association have also been added to the online version of this article. — Ed.