N.M. releases methane rule ahead of EPA plan

By Carlos Anchondo, Miranda Willson | 07/21/2020 07:24 AM EDT

New Mexico released a draft methane rule yesterday as part of its push for stricter emissions limits on oil and gas operations.

Natural gas flaring in New Mexico.

Natural gas flaring in New Mexico. blake.thornberry/flickr

New Mexico released a draft methane rule yesterday as part of its push for stricter emissions limits on oil and gas operations.

The rule seeks to achieve an industrywide rate of 98% captured natural gas by the end of 2026. That would be achieved by reducing the amount of gas — and thus methane — vented, flared or leaked by a certain amount each year. Methane is the primary component of natural gas.

Operators risk enforcement actions if they don’t meet the gas capture targets, the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department said.


The draft regulation comes days after a district court rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to change Obama-era rules controlling methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure on public and tribal lands (Greenwire, July 16).

An EPA rollback of Obama-era limits on oil and gas methane emissions could come later this month, although the agency has pushed its timeline back since last year (Climatewire, July 6).

"Pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, EPA has proposed a rule that would correct legal errors in the prior Administration’s regulation of the oil and gas industry," a spokeswoman for EPA said yesterday in an email.

"The final rule is already in interagency review, and EPA has requested that OMB expedite review of the final rule. States are always allowed to issue their own regulations, as long as they are at least as stringent as EPA regulations," she added.

New Mexico’s draft rule drew tentative praise from environmental groups in the state. Methane is considered 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide over 100 years, according to EPA.

"While we are still reviewing the rule, we do feel that these rules are more urgent than ever," said Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande chapter.

The first phase of the plan aims to identify methane venting "at every stage of the oil and gas value chain," a more comprehensive approach compared with some other states that have regulated methane, according to the state’s Oil Conservation Division, or OCD.

The regulations would apply to methane released from pipelines, gathering stations and production sites as well as at both new and existing sources of methane pollution, said Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund.

While states such as Colorado and Wyoming have regulated methane emissions for years, New Mexico previously lacked comprehensive regulations. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was elected in 2018, pledged earlier this year to begin regulating methane (Energywire, Aug. 15).

"I think these begin to fulfill what Gov. Lujan Grisham has put as her bar that she wants her agencies to meet of establishing nationally leading methane rules this year," Goldstein said.

The New Mexico Oil & Gas Associationsaid it planned to review the draft rule and would submit formal comments.

NMOGA Executive Director Ryan Flynn said the plan should "build upon the innovative solutions" that make New Mexico and the country the leader in "safe and environmentally responsible energy production."

"New Mexico relies heavily upon the oil and gas industry for our state budget and funding for public schools, and it is critical that these rules allow our industry to continue to create jobs and revenue amid unprecedented economic challenges," Flynn said in a statement.

Thomas Singer, a senior policy adviser at the Western Environmental Law Center, said it’s good news that the Lujan Grisham administration is "on track" to finalize the rule by year’s end.

"We also want to make sure the rules adequately limit venting of raw methane that is particularly damaging to the climate," Singer said in a statement, "as well as routine flaring which unjustly shifts costs from oil and gas companies onto the public and that they do not unduly exempt New Mexico’s many low-producing wells and smaller facilities which, collectively, are a significant source of methane waste and pollution."

Annual crude oil production in New Mexico more than doubled between 2013 and 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the state became the country’s third-largest oil producer in 2018.