Tighter regulations for oil and gas operations in New Mexico were adopted in a ruling of the N.M. Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) in mid-April. The new ozone pollution control standards were  hailed as “historic progress for the health and safety of communities across New Mexico,” according to Jon Goldstein, a former secretary for the N.M. Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department who is now on the staff of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The ruling was hailed by Conservation Voters of New Mexico as a good step toward addressing the “fossil fuel-induced climate crisis”  that has now “positioned New Mexico as a leader on the way to a clean energy future.” The ruling applies to equipment in oil and gas fields and monitoring  to assure repairs are made when leaks and malfunctions occur. The new controls are for what are known as ozone precursors, or chemicals that produce ozone in the atmosphere, a known health hazard.

Controlling those emissions will also control much of the potent greenhouse gas methane. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXXI No.4,  April 9, 2022 “Corrales’ Barry Bitzer Considers Oil and Gas Regulations.”)

Corrales’ Barry Bitzer serves on the EIB and heard testimony during weeks of hearings before the decision came April 14. “Reduced methane emissions will certainly be a secondary benefit,” Bitzer told Corrales Comment April 14, “but we were tasked with reducing ground-level ozone in areas of the state where oil and gas production has been pushing our air quality to the brink of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s violation levels that could trigger federal intervention.”

Corrales’former mayor, Scott Kominiak, was asked for his comments on the new EIB ruling since he is president of ABQ Energy Group which operates natural gas transmission and delivery systems from his home office here. Kominiak said pressing business did not allow him to send comments before the Comment deadline. He  has an office here and in Houston.

Operators, presumably including Kominiak’s firm, will be required to have emissions data certified by an engineer once the rules go into effect in mid-2022.

Oil and gas field leaks and malfunctions are estimated to account for 70 percent of the industry’s methane emissions statewide. The ruling was expected to cut methane releases by some 851 million pounds a year in New Mexico.

The ruling comes less than two weeks after the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which warned that too little progress is being made in the effort to keep average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial age levels.

In fact, it said, the warming trend is to exceed 2 degrees by the end of this century.

The 270 scientists from 67 countries who produced the IPCC report “Climate Change 2022: Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability” pointed out that just to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees higher will  require nations to collectively reduce greenhouse gases by 43 percent within the next eight years.

The EIB hearing process started last year to consider a petition from the N.M.  Environment Department to beef up rules for oil and gas operators in counties where releases of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (precursor chemicals to formation of ozone) have risen to at least 95 percent of federal ambient air quality standards.

Sandoval County is one of those, but most are in southeastern and northwestern parts of the state.

In recent years, attention has been focused on methane releases and their exceptional short-term potency as greenhouse gases.  But the State of New Mexico has limited ability to address methane because it is not a listed “criteria pollutant” in the context of the federal Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Even so, it has been estimated that based on calculations for expected decrease in ozone precursor releases, methane pollution in New Mexico would be reduced by around 851 million pounds a year. 

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