New Mexico proposes crackdown on oil and gas industry's methane emissions

FILE PHOTO: A general view of a refinery in Hobbs, New Mexico, U.S. September 18, 2019. Picture taken September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

(Reuters) - New Mexico this week proposed rules that would require its oil and gas industry to capture at least 98% of its emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane by 2026, a standard it said would be among the strongest in the nation.

The proposal, announced by state officials on Monday after consultations with industry, would impact drillers in New Mexico’s portion of the Permian Basin oil hub where production has surged in recent years.

“The draft rules lay out an achievable but ambitious timeline and leaves room for innovation in the oil and gas industry, incorporating key feedback received throughout the process,” said New Mexico Oil Conservation Division Director Adrienne Sandoval.

Other states have also implemented plans to cut methane emissions, including Colorado and Pennsylvania. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has reversed Obama-era regulations seeking to slash the emissions, calling them unnecessary and harmful to development.

Environmental groups welcomed the New Mexico proposal.

“Governor Lujan Grisham’s proposal is a critical step but loopholes for low producing wells must be closed to ensure we meet her commitment to create nation-leading methane waste and pollution rules,” said Barbara Webber, executive director of advocacy group Health Action New Mexico.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association did not say if it supported the proposals but said its members will continue providing technical expertise to the state.

New Mexico is seeking public comment on the proposal before finalizing it.

The Environmental Defense Fund said New Mexico’s drilling industry emits approximately a million metric tons of methane a year. That is the climate equivalent of 5.4 million cars, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Tom Brown