ALBUQUERQUE – Some of the biggest names in energy production in New Mexico have signed on to a national effort within the oil and gas industry to curb methane emissions as pressure mounts for states to enact more pollution laws.
The move comes as the U.S. Interior Department announced it would delay an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from production on federal lands.
Industry officials in New Mexico say BP America, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy and others see the effort to reduce emissions as a priority and that work already underway has led to lower methane levels. Companies are using drones, for example, to monitor for leaks.
Under the partnership, companies will participate in programs that focus on addressing leaks and repairing or replacing certain pneumatic controllers at wells and other sites that are known for releasing methane.
State regulators testified recently before a panel of lawmakers that the most recent figures show a more than 50 percent decrease in emissions in New Mexico over the past year from venting and flaring during the initial stages of oil and gas production.
About 1 percent of all gas produced in the state is vented or flared, according to the figures from the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
Environmentalists argue emissions are higher than what state and federal regulators have measured and that unintentional releases are not being accounted for. They say New Mexico is losing out on taxes and royalties that would be earned if more of the gas was captured.
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in New Mexico, reiterated many of the concerns highlighted by environmentalists in recent weeks. She issued a statement Tuesday, suggesting that if elected as the state’s leader she would work with business and conservation leaders on what she called “common sense statewide rules.”
While she did not offer many specifics, she said requiring regular inspections would be one option and that jobs stemming from efforts to address the pollution problem would further benefit New Mexico’s economy.
“The oil and gas industry has invested more than $13 billion in southeastern New Mexico’s Permian Basin this year, creating a new drilling boom. While some of those drillers have committed to measures to limit methane waste and pollution, we have a long way to go. We need consistent standards,” Lujan Grisham said.
Industry officials have pointed to the ongoing reductions and have argued that federal regulations called for by environmentalists and the possibility of more state rules would result in higher costs and ultimately job and revenue losses.
Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the industry – rather than politicians and activist groups – have been leading the way.
“There still is a significant push from industry and significant opportunities to develop technology and innovate in the field versus to rule by decree, which is what politicians have wanted to do for a long time,” he said.