ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Oilfield equipment that emits smog-causing pollution would be targeted by New Mexico environmental regulators under a proposed rule made public Thursday by the state Environment Department.
The release of the proposal marks the next step in a process that started nearly two years ago as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other top Democrats in the state announced their intentions to curb emissions across the oil and natural gas sector. The state created a working group made up of industry, environmentalists, and other experts to help in crafting the regulations.
The rules proposed by the state Environment Department are part of a two-pronged approach, which Environment Secretary James Kenney touted as the most comprehensive effort in the U.S. to tackle pollution blamed for exacerbating climate change. State oil and gas regulators adopted separate rules earlier this year to limit venting and flaring as a way to reduce methane pollution.
The Environment Department opted to remove all exemptions from an earlier version of its rule that was drafted last year. The proposal also includes minimum requirements for operators to calculate their emissions and have them certificated by an engineer and to find and fix leaks on a monthly basis.
New Mexico is home to part of the Permian Basin, which is one of the world’s most productive oilfields. Environmentalists had been pressuring the state over the past several months not to allow any exceptions, pointing to elevated levels of emissions in New Mexico’s oilfields.
The Environment Department’s rule will apply in counties with high ozone levels. Currently, this includes Chaves, Doña Ana, Eddy, Lea, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, San Juan, and Valencia counties.
Kenney said the state considered the reductions that could be achieved in volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides by including all types of wells, even those with low potential for emissions.
“From a science-based perspective as well as a public health perspective as well as an environmental perspective, it was the right thing to do,” Kenney said of removing all of the exemptions.
While the industry generally supported the rules adopted by the Oil Conservation Division, the Environment Department’s proposal spurred some concerns Thursday.
Leland Gould, chairman of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the industry group and its members are committed to protecting the health and environment of the communities where they operate and they support sound, science-based regulations to reduce methane emissions and ozone levels.
“As we review the rule in detail, we will look for opportunities to engage the department with industry’s technical professionals to encourage greater innovation and cost-effective solutions, consistent with other regulatory requirements,” he said, noting that responsible energy development will continue to pay dividends when it comes to supporting state spending and the overall economy.
State officials pointed to what they described as an unlevel playing field when it comes to industry and the government. There are seven inspectors for more than 50,000 wells, meaning regulators will lean heavily on technological advancements for monitoring oil and gas operations. Kenney said that will include aerial inspections, the use of special cameras and infrared drones.
The state expects the rule, once adopted sometime next year, to lead to reductions in ozone-causing pollution that would equal taking 8 million cars off the road every year. Methane emissions also would be reduced as a result, Kenney said.
“We will ensure compliance with these rules because public health is at stake,” he told reporters during a briefing.
The proposed rule also establishes emission reduction requirements for equipment like compressors, turbines, heaters and other pneumatic devices.
If companies violate the rules, they could be hit with notices of violation, orders to comply and possibly civil penalties.
Kenney acknowledged that the rules will come with a cost for operators. Advocates for the industry have raised concerns about the rules pushing development across the border into neighboring Texas, which shares a portion of the Permian Basin.