ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – Oil and gas industry and environmental advocates disagree on the latest proposed regulation to tackle smog-causing pollution.
A panel from the New Mexico Department of the Environment will hear the agency’s proposed new rules, which some see as endangering the state budget and hundreds of jobs, at a hearing later this this month, reports the Albuquerque Journal..
Don Schreiber, whose ranch near Blanco encompasses Rio Arriba and San Juan counties, has been tracking and documenting the pollution problem surrounding regional oil and gas drilling for nearly two decades. He lobbied for strict regulations on industry emissions at the federal and state levels.
“Oil companies can choose to capture methane without regulation,” Schreiber said. “This is common sense. But it is also a question of result.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Climate Change Executive Order calls on state environmental regulators to find ways to reduce emissions from the gas and oil industries.
Environmentalists like Schreiber believe the new interim regulations might not go far enough. He thinks they still have exceptions for emissions when it comes to re-drilling or completing wells.
“It’s a fragile landscape,” Schreiber said. “I can go to closed wells for 15 years, and I can tell you exactly where it was. It just doesn’t heal.
Under the proposal, professional engineers would review and validate emissions data calculated by oil and gas operators. There would also be an increase in inspections of equipment for leaks and other issues.
“We cannot wait for our ozone levels to worsen,” Environment Secretary James Kenney said. “We currently have a level playing field between industry and government.”
The State Department estimates that the rules would reduce ozone-forming pollutants by about 129,000 tonnes per year and also reduce about 425,000 tonnes of methane.
JoAnna Strother, senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association, said the state of air quality in the region needs to change. The group has given fail grades to five counties in New Mexico for ozone pollution.
“We need to see air quality standards tighten so that we can truly be protected,” Strother said. “We still have a way to go before we make sure we breathe cleaner, healthier air. “
New Mexico’s oil and gas companies have already expressed reservations in writing. Ryan Davis, President of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico and COO of Merrion Oil & Gas Corp. in Farmington, said the rule doesn’t seem balanced enough if you’re a small trader.
“The requirement to have certification by a qualified professional engineer is inappropriate and creates an unnecessary burden on operators,” Davis wrote as part of the Petroleum Association’s 200-page testimony and recommendations. He thinks it would be good to let the operator’s in-house engineers certify the data.
Davis also opposed the phase-out of some pneumatic control devices, as replacing equipment like this would be a high price for some operators.
If the new rules were to be adopted, they could come into effect by March.