Oil and gas industry association provides input on methane emission monitoring in New Mexico

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and an industry association has a plan to reduce its share of emissions. Not everyone agrees with its proposals.

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FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Oil & Gas Association has released a methane mitigation roadmap that proposes ways to monitor and reduce emissions.

The 22-page report identifies four areas where methane emissions are most likely to occur — including fugitive emissions, storage tanks, pneumatic devices, and liquids unloading operations. It also provides recommendations for addressing these methane emissions.

“There is nothing we value more than safeguarding the people and places we care about the most, and that means working continuously to protect the environment and reduce and control methane emissions. It’s a responsibility we take personally,” NMOGA Executive Director Ryan Flynn said in a press release. “We know that we have a responsibility to reduce our methane emissions and this report underscores we are in fact reducing emissions through responsible operations. We will continue collaborating with willing partners in the public and private sector, while investing in advanced technology and innovation to achieve even greater reductions in methane emissions.”

Five takeaways from the report

  1. NMOGA states San Juan and Permian basins need different regulations: NMOGA’s report states the regulations should be flexible because the San Juan and Permian basins have different production characteristics. The San Juan Basin primarily produces drier gas using older, lower producing wells — leading to lower emissions compared to the Permian Basin. The Permian Basin primarily produces oil, although it does produce some natural gas in association with the oil production.
  2. NMOGA does not support leak detection and repair on low-producing wells: While the report states fugitive emissions — leaks that occur over time — are one of the major sources of emissions, NMOGA states that it is not economical to do leak detection and repair surveys on low-producing wells and those surveys may not make much impact on emissions. The roadmap also states wellhead-only locations should be excluded from leak detection and repair programs due to limited equipment on site.
  3. The industry association wants flexibility: Throughout the report, NMOGA emphasizes that owners and operators should have flexibility in choosing technologies and that the age of the well as well as remaining useful life should be taken into account.
  4. Wells change over time and the technology used should also change: The report details ways wells change over time. In the section about managing liquid building up in the wellbore, NMOGA states no single technique will be adequate or appropriate for addressing this liquid build up throughout the entire life of a well.
  5. Report uses EPA data: NMOGA analyzed data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program to evaluate emissions. The report states methane emissions have decreased while drilling has increased. However, environmental advocacy groups argue that the EPA underestimates the emissions. In a statement released on June 24, Environmental Defense Fund criticized the report's reliance on EPA data. Environmental Defense Fund stated oil and gas operators produce more than five times the amount of methane NMOGA reports in the roadmap. The environmental advocacy group states that leads to lost revenue for the state and a climate impact equivalent to 22 coal-fired power plants.

The roadmap also suggests storage vessel control requirements, phasing out of high-bleed pneumatic controllers and implementing onsite monitoring of manual liquids unloading operations.

The report is available online at nmoga.org/methaneroadmap.

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Environmental advocacy groups call proposals weak

Tom Singer, a senior policy adviser for the Western Environmental Law Center, said the four sources listed in the report "have been the big sources particularly in the San Juan Basin for forever."

However, he said the industry also needs to address venting and flaring.

"Industry is treating natural gas as waste product in the Permian," he said.

Singer stated Western Environmental Law Center learned through a public records request to the state Oil Conservation Division that venting increased by 56 percent in 2018 while flaring increased by 117 percent.

New Mexico: Methane emissions highest in oil and gas regions, according to NMED

Singer said he is glad that industry is engaging in conversations about emissions, but the proposals are not as strong as his organization would like to see.

This sentiment was repeated by Western Environmental Law Center Executive Director Erik Schlenker-Goodrich in a statement.

"Make no mistake: These recommendations, targeted to just four emissions sources, are an effort by the oil and gas industry to minimize its responsibility to address methane pollution and waste," Schlenker-Goodrich said. "These recommendations, if adopted, would be among the weakest methane safeguards in the U.S."

Environmental Defense Fund also described the recommendations as weak.

"NMOGA’s proposal — if enacted — would fall far short of the bar set by Gov. (Michelle) Lujan Grisham for nationally leading methane rules," said Jon Goldstein, the director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, in an email. "However, as the state's rule development process continues we stand prepared to work with all parties to develop rules that meet the governor's vision and deliver the methane pollution reductions needed to protect future generations of New Mexicans."

WildEarth Guardians criticizes focus on methane emissions

Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner for WildEarth Guardians, criticized the report as a distraction from meaningful efforts to combat climate change.

WildEarth Guardians stated in a blog post earlier this month that policies regulating methane emissions in New Mexico will not have a discernible impact on reducing greenhouse gases. The group advocates for policies aimed at reducing drilling.

"We’re not surprised to see the oil and gas industry’s willingness to address methane emissions in New Mexico as these efforts distract from any meaningful reform or necessary steps to address the climate crisis," Sobel said in an email. "New Mexico methane emissions from oil and gas represent 0.3% of the industry’s total climate footprint. Efforts to regulate methane distract from meaningful efforts for climate action."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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