New Mexico’s Permian, San Juan Basins Lead Methane Reductions In West
New data for the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas emissions shows substantial reductions in methane emissions in several western oil and gas basins, a Western Wire review reveals.
EPA’s latest greenhouse gas GHG Reporting Program data for New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, which covers the Four Corners region, and the Permian Basin, located in New Mexico’s southeast corner, demonstrates steady and substantial declines from methane emissions.
According to EPA, methane emissions from oil and gas production in the San Juan Basin, measured as million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, have declined every year since 2014. From 5.5 million metric tons CO2 eq. (MMT CO2e) in 2014, the basin’s methane emissions declined to 4.7 MMT CO2e in 2015, and down to 4.6 MMT CO2e in 2016.
The San Juan Basin stood at 3.9 MMT CO2e in 2017.
In 2016 EPA launched a separate category for onshore oil and gas gathering and boosting emissions. In 2016 in the San Juan Basin, emissions from that category were 777,528 metric tons CO2e and by 2017, the number dropped to 749,788 metric tons CO2e.
The Permian Basin’s aggregate emissions also declined, when combining production (which increased slightly) as well as gathering and boosting (which dropped more significantly). With a total drop of approximately 100,000 metric tons CO2e, the basin has shown that the boom leading the country to be the world’s top oil producer doesn’t have to sacrifice environmental goals.
EPA’s data shows that the Permian dropped from 8.4 MMT CO2e in 2016 to 8.3 MMT CO2e in 2017, even as rig counts swelled, according to the state’s top natural resources official.
Secretary Ken McQueen, who leads New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, told Western Wire that emissions reductions are the product of cutting regulatory red tape and allowing the oil and gas industry to pursue best practices and innovate. That combination has led to startling numbers on methane emissions, as volumes plummeted more than half even as production, as measured by rig count, skyrocketed in New Mexico.
“Under Governor Martinez, we’ve focused on improving permitting and cutting unnecessary regulations to help the industry grow, while working with operators to cut their emissions,” McQueen said. “And since 2016, New Mexico has lowered vent and flare volumes by 59%, while at the same time increasing our rig count by 700 percent.”
Earlier this year, McQueen said the state’s record production was “no surprise” even as a report from his department in late 2017 outlined the “very high compliance level” from the industry that helped reduce documented methane emissions. In the report, the steep decline in methane emissions was attributable to “advances in technology and changes in the way wells are drilled.”
According to New Mexico’s Gas Capture Workgroup, initiated by Martinez in 2015, several “enhancements” that have directly contributed to the declines in venting and flaring come directly from technological advancements and improved production practices employed by operators. This includes operators constructing facilities and pipelines in advance of drilling, replacing high-bleed controllers with low-bleed controllers, pad drilling (one gathering line supports multiple wells), well-site cryo unit to separate and collect hydrocarbon liquids, and speeding up the regulatory process with improved cycle time in rights of way permitting by the Bureau of Land Management and the New Mexico State Land Office.
These techniques have combined to affect a 59 percent reduction in venting and flaring volumes over the past two and a half years, down 2.48 to 1.01 percent of total natural gas production by July 2018, the most recently available data.
Other New Mexico observers agreed that allowing more innovation was critical.
Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation, told Western Wire that New Mexico’s success in increasing output while protecting the environment can be tied to the innovation that the state’s industry is allowed to pursue, opening up new development while forcing emissions down.
“The tremendous decline in methane emissions from oil and gas activity in the San Juan Basin should not be surprising,” Gessing said. “Free markets and competitive enterprises in generally are noted for their efficiency. Methane that cannot be sold on the open market is of no use to the producer and represents lost profits. As long as government policies do not obstruct pipelines and other infrastructure development in the San Juan Basin I believe we can look forward to further declines in methane releases in the future.”
Other basins in the West, like Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg and Piceance Basins, as well as Utah’s Uinta Basin showed substantial methane reductions as well.
From 2016 to 2017 the D-J Basin along Colorado’s Front Range and northeast plains saw reductions in both production and gathering and boosting categories, from 2.037 MMT CO2e (1.7 MMT CO2e production and 0.337 MMT CO2e gathering & boosting) down to 1.868 MMT CO2e (1.6 MMT CO2e production and 0.268 MMT CO2e gathering & boosting), a total decline of approximately 169,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
The reductions in the Piceance Basin were even more dramatic, with a total drop of approximately 321,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent, 2.695 MMT CO2e to 2.374 MMT CO2e (2.5 MMT CO2e production and 0.195 MMT CO2e gathering and boosting in 2016 down to 2.2 MMT CO2e production and 0.174 MMT CO2e by 2017.
Shelby Wieman, Deputy Press Secretary for Gov. John Hickenlooper, told Western Wire via email that collaboration remains the cornerstone to the state’s success in reducing emissions.
“Colorado is committed to protecting and improving our clean air. It’s why we created the first methane regulations in the country with environmentalists and the oil and gas industry at the table. We continue working to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” Wieman wrote.
The numbers for Utah’s Uinta Basin, while more modest, continue to show overall declines, according to EPA.
From 2016’s 2.022 MMT CO2e (production + gathering and boosting) to 1.961 MMT CO2e in 2017, a total decline of approximately 61,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
Energy In Depth notes the nationwide decline in GHG emissions, with overall reductions of 2.6 percent in 2017 alone.