New Data: New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Methane Problem Persists, Proposed Rules Need Improvement to Protect State’s Health and Climate

New Data: New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Methane Problem Persists, Proposed Rules Need Improvement to Protect State’s Health and Climate

November 20, 2020
Matt McGee, (512) 691-3478, mmcgee@edf.org

(Santa Fe, N.M.) Scientists from Environmental Defense Fund today published an updated estimate of oil and gas methane emissions in New Mexico. The estimate includes new analysis that finds proposed pollution rules put forward by the state’s regulatory agencies would reduce methane emissions by just 21% statewide, as compared to reductions of 56% possible with a set of comprehensive policies proven to be cost-effective in other oil and gas producing regions.

“Gov. Lujan Grisham’s administration has an excellent chance to enact meaningful safeguards that eliminate loopholes and maximize health and climate benefits,” said Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs at EDF. “This data sends a clear message that stronger action is needed to protect communities and families across the state and achieve the governor’s goal of nation-leading rules.”

These new estimates come as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Environment Department (NMED) and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) work to fulfill her commitment to address the state’s methane problem via “nation-leading” rules to reduce air and climate pollution from the oil and gas sector.

Comparing policy solutions

Our analysis of the rules proposed by NMED and EMNRD accounts for how both rules would work in tandem to curb emissions and reveals that they would reduce only 21% of methane emissions and 19% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the oil and gas industry across the state.

The NMED proposal contains excessive carve-outs for low-producing wells and those under certain pollution thresholds, and would exempt 95% of wellsites in New Mexico from regulation, per EDF analysis of NMED’s own publicly available permitting data. This severely limits the pollution reductions possible in parts of the state at risk of exceeding federal ozone standards.

“The Environment Department’s mission is to protect New Mexicans from pollution, but this analysis makes clear that the agency must eliminate proposed loopholes in order to meet that charge,” said Goldstein. “Strong, cost-effective solutions are available for reducing emissions, and both the science and economics point to the importance of adopting robust final rules.”

By comparison, a suite of comprehensive rules built upon what leading states have put in place – and which removes exemptions proposed by NMED – would curb 56% of methane emissions and 58% of VOCs from oil and gas statewide, and provide roughly double the emission reductions of the state’s current proposal in key oil and gas producing counties facing unhealthy air quality, such as Eddy, Lea, San Juan and Rio Arriba Counties.

EDF estimates the state’s oil and gas operators emit over 1.1 million metric tons of methane annually, roughly the same as the state’s own estimates in its recently-released 2020 Climate Strategy. This amount of methane carries the same near-term climate impact as 25 coal-fired power plants.

Additionally, the oil and gas sector releases an estimated 337,500 metric tons of smog-forming VOCs every year, a primary building block of the ozone pollution that is hitting the state’s major oil and gas producing counties hard. Ozone pollution causes respiratory illness and threatens public health, especially for vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly.

Maximizing state revenue

Unchecked emissions carry a significant economic cost for New Mexico. Vented, flared and leaked methane wastes $271 million worth of natural gas annually. If captured, this would translate to an additional $43 million in tax and royalty revenue for the state every year.

At a time when New Mexico faces significant fiscal challenges, that money could be invested in priorities like health care, infrastructure and education. For example, lost state revenue from methane waste would be enough to increase pre-K enrollment by 80% and enroll more than 7,000 additional New Mexico children in early education programs.

Third-party economic analysis also finds that comprehensive state methane rules without NMED’s current exemptions are extremely cost effective, delivering a 30% return on investment for New Mexicans, including $1.2 billion in avoided air quality nonattainment costs and $126 million in human health benefits.

Deepening emissions knowledge

EDF drew on the most recent peer-reviewed science as well as satellite remote sensing data collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) to conduct this emissions analysis.

“Leveraging the latest scientific research alongside satellites’ rapidly growing ability to monitor and measure emissions enables us to deliver actionable data for regulators, industry and the public,” said Hillary Hull, senior manager of research and analytics at EDF.

These findings align closely with site-based measurements being taken in the Permian Basin, including those via EDF’s ongoing Permian Methane Analysis Project, and underscore the efficacy of satellite observation for achieving robust and accurate measurements.

The full analysis is available online at edf.org/nm-oil-gas

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With offices in the United States, China, Mexico, United Kingdom and Indonesia, EDF’s 750 scientists, economists, attorneys – and our partners and allies – work in 26 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EDFEnergyEX and our Energy Exchange blog.