Governor calls for methane rule to be repealed
Interior Department updates regulations to require oil and gas producers to limit flaring for safety, maintenance, other reasons
ALBUQUERQUE — As one of the nation’s top energy-producing states, New Mexico won’t be able to afford a rule finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration that seeks to reduce air pollution on public and tribal lands, Gov. Susana Martinez said.
The Republican governor outlined her opposition in a letter sent to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. The governor’s office released the letter late Tuesday, just ahead of a House committee hearing on the matter.
The Interior Department updated its regulations to require oil and gas producers to limit flaring — the controlled burning of excess gas — for safety, maintenance and other reasons. Most of the gas being burned is methane.
The rule also requires inspections for leaks and replacement of equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air.
Martinez warned that royalties paid to New Mexico, which is struggling to solve a budget crisis, will decrease and development will stagnate thanks to the rule. She said that could lead to more job losses in a state that already has the nation’s second highest unemployment rate.
The industry also is the single largest source of funding for New Mexico’s budget, the governor said.
Martinez suggested that the Interior Department address the root causes of venting and flaring by approving rights of way more efficiently to increase the capacity of pipelines. She said that would allow producers to capture and sell as much of the gas possible.
“Rather than allowing this misguided rule to move forward, I urge you to repeal the rule and work with the Department of Interior to address the infrastructure challenges currently causing venting and flaring events to occur,” Martinez wrote.
Supporters of the rule argue the gas wasted each year in New Mexico by venting and flaring is valued at more than $100 million. They say royalties from that production could be used for schools and infrastructure.
Molly Sanders with Conservation Voters New Mexico said the regulations modernize outdated waste guidance adopted three decades ago.
“This attack on the (Bureau of Land Management) methane rule is an attack on all of New Mexico’s communities and economies,” she said in a statement.
Petroleum developers flare excess gas from newly drilled wells while they assess productivity and install pipelines to carry the gas off to sale. The practice costs the government about $23 million a year in lost royalties, according to a 2010 U.S. Government Accountability Office report.
Forty percent of the gas could be captured economically with existing technology, according to the report.
Industry officials in New Mexico and elsewhere in the West say producers have already taken steps to curb venting and flaring.
Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, the Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Association of America are suing the federal government, claiming the rule exceeds the Interior Department’s authority.