Tougher controls on oil and gas methane emissions could mean cleaner air in New Mexico’s oilfields and across the U.S.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday during the COP27 United Nations climate summit in Egypt it was proposing methane regulations intended to augment its proposal made last year, targeting not only new but existing sources of fossil fuel air pollution.
This means many oil and gas facilities would need to be retrofitted to reduce their impact on air quality.
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The proposal would also establish a program by which approved third-party organizations can report emissions to the EPA and require operators respond, while also tightening requirements on flaring, the process of burning off excess natural gas mostly made up of methane.
The State of New Mexico recently enacted two sets of rules targeting oil and gas emissions, one at the New Mexico Environment Department this year, and another last year at the State’s Oil Conservation Division.
While those rules were viewed as “nation-leading” by the State’s administration and its supporters, environmentalists worried without tougher federal rules applied to other states like neighboring Texas that shares the Permian Basin oilfields with New Mexico, pollution could continue to cross borders.
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“Pollution doesn’t stop at the state border, and New Mexico alone cannot solve the pollution issue for those of us in frontline communities of the Permian Basin,” said Kayley Shoup, organizer with Carlsbad-based Citizens Caring for the Future.
“We hope that these rules can be implemented and enforced swiftly, as the Permian faces down ozone pollution levels that are in violation of the Clean Air Act.”
In the northwestern New Mexico gas fields within the San Juan Basin, heavy extraction meant many residents lived within feet of extraction facilities.
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Throughout New Mexico it was estimated 35,000 New Mexicans live within 1,000 feet of oil well site, and Robyn Jackson, executive director at Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (CARE) said Indigenous communities within the Navajo Nation were disproportionately affected by the impacts.
This meant the EPA’s efforts were needed to address environmental injustices, he said, befalling local communities near oil and gas operations.
“Ozone pollution and climate impacts from methane emissions pose a serious threat to our people,” Jackson said. “Navajo leaders and community members have been calling on the federal government and the Navajo Nation to do more to limit pollution from oil and gas.”
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Rules expected to cut methane released by oil and gas through 2035
By 2030, the EPA estimated the recent proposal would reduce methane emissions from oil and gas by 87 percent from 2005 levels.
From 2023 to 2035, The EPA estimated its proposal would cut methane in the air by up to 36 million tons while reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 9.7 million tons.
Oil and gas is the nation’s largest source of methane pollution, according to the EPA, and is a greenhouse gas that traps about 80 time as much heat as carbon dioxide in the first 20 years of its release, contributing to global warming.
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Methane is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gas-driven global warming, read the EPA’s report.
To reduce methane’s environmental impact, the EPA proposed requiring routine monitoring for leaks, increase gas capture and require zero-emission pneumatic pumps replace gas-driven pumps throughout the oil and gas supply chain.
States would be required to develop their own plans to reduce emissions within 18 months of final rule’s issuance, under the proposal, establishing compliance deadlines up to three years after the deadline.
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EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the proposed regulations, coupled with the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act could make progress in addressing pollution and subsequent climate change.
“Our stronger standards will work hand in hand with the historic level of resources from the Inflation Reduction Act to protect our most vulnerable communities and to put us on a path to achieve President Biden’s ambitious climate goals,” he said in a statement.
But oil and gas industry leaders were critical of the federal efforts, worrying tighter regulations could mean higher costs for domestic energy producers, thus increasing the U.S.’ reliance on imports from countries with laxer existing requirements.
Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president at the American Petroleum Institute (API) said fossil fuel companies were already taking steps on their own to reduce emissions without added government rules.
“API’s member companies are continuously advancing and deploying new technology to improve methane detection and reduction, and we support a final rule that promotes this continued innovation,” he said.
“Federal regulation of methane crafted to build on industry’s progress can help accelerate emissions reductions while developing reliable American energy.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.