New Mexico hearing begins for next round of oil and gas rules


ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – New Mexico is now the nation’s second-largest oil-producing state, and environmental officials say more needs to be done to curb pollution from the industry.

They are proposing another set of rules as part of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s initiative to tackle climate change. This time, the state is focusing on the types of pollution – volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides – that react with sunlight to form harmful levels of ground-level ozone.

A hearing began on Monday. Over the next two weeks, members of the State Council for Environmental Improvement will hear from dozens of experts and see tons of technical data, but it will be months before a final decision is made. .

Before calling its first witnesses, an attorney for the New Mexico Department of the Environment argued that the council had a duty to address rising ozone levels rather than wait for the U.S. Agency environmental protection forces the state to take action under the provisions of the Clean Air Act.

“These regulations are the first time the department has taken steps to seriously regulate the oil and gas industry and it comes against the backdrop of a massive expansion of this industry in New Mexico in recent years,” said the lawyer Lara. Katz.

New Mexico is home to part of the Permian Basin, one of the richest oil-producing regions in the world. Development revenues there and in the San Juan Basin in the opposite corner of New Mexico are critical to state spending on public education. Lawmakers also created an endowment for early childhood education programs that is fueled by oil and gas revenues.

Industry generally supports the proposal but wants to ensure that regulators balance the need to reduce pollution with the sustainability of oil and gas development.

Attorney Eric Hiser, who represents the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the rule is costly whether you consider industry estimates to be over $ 3 billion or at least $ 1 billion. $ 5 billion cited by state witnesses. He urged the board to “pay attention to issues where we may be able to maintain effective regulation, but at a lower cost to New Mexicans.”

He also suggested that the proposed rules would have only a limited impact on overall ozone levels, noting that significant pollution also comes from the transport sector.

“This is not a quick fix that will solve all of New Mexico’s success problems as much as we would like in the industry,” Hiser said.

The state expects the rule to lead to reductions in ozone-causing pollution that would be equivalent to taking 8 million cars off the road each year. Methane emissions would also be reduced as a result, officials said.

The rules proposed by the Department of the Environment are part of a two-pronged approach, which state officials have touted as the most comprehensive effort in the United States to tackle pollution accused of exacerbating the climate change. State oil and gas regulators passed separate rules earlier this year to limit ventilation and flaring to reduce methane pollution.

The Department of the Environment has removed all exemptions from an earlier version of the rule. The proposal includes minimum requirements for operators to calculate their emissions and have them certified by an engineer and to find and repair leaks on a monthly basis.

If companies break the rules, they could face notices of violation, orders to comply and potentially civil penalties.

Lawyers for regional and national environmental groups who intervened in the case told the council the rule is a good first step towards protecting public health and the environment, but more can be done, in particular by requiring that the emissions data submitted by the operators be made public.

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