New Mexico’s governor is not happy about the Trump administration’s rollback of methane regulations for the oil and gas industry.
“It is utterly disheartening and sadly unsurprising to hear once again that critical environmental regulations are being rolled back by the Trump administration, leaving states to fend for themselves,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement last week.
The Environmental Protection Agency, under the Obama administration, had set about drafting nationwide regulations that would require oil and gas companies to detect and repair methane leaks at their facilities.
Methane is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, according to the EPA’s own data. The agency says methane accounts for just 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, yet has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
And, according to the EPA, one-third of those emissions come from oil and gas production.
But since taking office in 2016, President Donald Trump has attempted to roll back many of the Obama administration’s directives to fight climate change.
EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, appointed in February 2019, announced last week the methane regulations were formally rescinded. He called them redundant and said methane has not been found to be a major pollutant.
“EPA has been working hard to fulfill President Trump’s promise to cut burdensome and ineffective regulations for our domestic energy industry,” Wheeler said in a statement.
“Today’s regulatory changes remove redundant paperwork, align with the Clean Air Act and allow companies the flexibility to satisfy leak-control requirements by complying with equivalent state rules.”
The problem is many states don’t have methane regulations.
In 2014, Colorado became the first state in the country to put in place regulations to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations – rules that went further than the EPA’s.
The measures called for in the regulations, for the most part, can be routine, such as fixing leaks or installing new equipment to better capture methane.
According to a 2018 state report, the regulations sparked oil and gas companies to repair about 73,000 methane leaks, and, as a result, the number of leaks went from 36,000 in 2015 to around 17,250 in 2017 – a reduction of more than 50%.
And since the regulations went into effect, natural gas production in Colorado has continued to increase. Natural gas and coalbed methane production went from about 1.6 billion million cubic feet in 2013 to more than 2 billion MCF in 2019.
Colorado’s neighbor to the south, however, does not have rules on methane, despite the methane hot spot detected over the San Juan Basin natural gas field that spans northern New Mexico and Southwest Colorado.
But that all is expected to soon change: New Mexico started working on its own set of regulations after Grisham took office in January 2019.
“New Mexico is well on the way to putting in place our own robust and innovative regulations to curb methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, which will yield improved air quality and fewer climate change-inducing emissions,” she said.
Maddy Hayden, spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department, said a draft version of the methane rules was released July 20.
After determining the current level of natural gas waste in “Phase 1,” each operator must reduce methane by a fixed amount each year to achieve a gas capture rate of 98% by Dec. 31, 2026.
An operator faces enforcement action if it does not meet the gas capture targets.
The rules also include design standards for pipelines, allow for innovation in curbing emissions and incentivize detection flyovers by giving credits to operators that fix methane leaks on their own facilities and inform other operations of leaks.
“Ultimately, each rule must go through each agency’s respective rulemaking body – NMED’s will go before the Environmental Improvement Board, (and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department) will go before the Oil Conservation Commission – before being adopted,” Hayden said.
Susan Torres, a spokeswoman for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said the state hopes to adopt the regulations in early 2021.
“We will continue to do everything in our power to fight climate change and environmental degradation despite the Trump administration’s backward approach,” she said.