Udall, EDF Tout Benefits of Natural Gas Even As They Call For More Regulation
A New Mexico Senator and national environmental groups touted the benefits of oil and gas production within the state even as they called for more regulations in a press call Thursday.
The Environmental Defense Fund hosted the call, joined by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D) to announce a report the activist group said would raise revenues and decrease methane emissions.
“New Mexico enjoys significant oil and gas production, it’s the source of good jobs and critical revenue for our state government and schools,” Udall said. Udall statement of support for federal rules on venting and flaring by the Obama administration come as the rules are under administrative review by the Trump administration and continue to face legal challenges in court.
Oil and gas industry representatives were quick to point out that recent methane emissions reductions—more than 50 percent in the last year—were made in the state without additional regulations, at a time when rig counts have quadrupled in New Mexico since 2016 and oil and gas production have both increased.
New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre told Western Wire that Udall and EDF were trying to have things both ways, touting oil and gas’s contributions to the state while at the same time embracing more “red tape.”
“They acknowledged on the call today that emissions were decreasing and acknowledged the leadership that industry is taking, but they’re unwilling to give credit to hard working New Mexicans that are actually making that happen,” McEntyre said, adding that technology is helping to achieve the same goals without more regulation.
“The best way to continue to make gains in our emission reduction goals is to look to New Mexico and our operators for solutions we’re creating right here in our own backyard,” he said, not
“If Sen. Udall wants to continue to make oil and gas the number one economic driver for New Mexico,” McEntyre said, as he did on the call, “he can pull back on his destructive policies.”
A report to state legislators from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Secretary Ken McQueen last week documented methane emissions plummeting by more than 50 percent in just the last year, with a 56 percent reduction in venting and 54 percent reduction in flaring. Just 1 percent of the state’s total natural gas production was vented or flared, said McQueen.
Data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program showed a 47 percent drop in methane emissions from the state’s San Juan Basin between 2011 and 2016. The New Mexico EMNRD and EPA data are more recent than the EDF report’s data, which runs through 2015 and includes simulations, not direct observations.
McQueen’s report included examining ways the state could “[r]educe regulations that slow technological implementation/innovation that could reduce flaring” and noted the proactive gas capture methods being implemented in New Mexico
New Mexico regulators attributed the considerable decline in methane emissions to tracking and compliance efforts by oil and gas producers, as well as “advances in technology and changes in the way wells are drilled.”
“Reducing emissions and responsibly producing oil and natural gas is a top priority for all operators in New Mexico, and this data shows that our commitment to protecting the environment is having measurable success,” Flynn said.
Adrian Hedden, a reporter from the Carlsbad Current-Argus, asked call organizers if oil and gas operators were already implementing technology to reduce emissions without the need for additional regulations.
“I think it’s right to recognize some oil and gas producers are stepping up on this issue. For instance, XTO, which is the domestic drilling arm of Exxon-Mobil, has made big, big investments in southeastern New Mexico this year,” said Jon Goldstein, Director of Regulatory & Legislative Affairs for EDF. “Six billion dollars poured into the Permian Basin in New Mexico to buy up new acreage. And they have also announced a number of efforts to reduce methane emissions, that really show their commitment to doing this development right and doing right by New Mexico,” he said.
Goldstein said other producers should be held to the same standard, and that’s why his group issued the report. He pointed to Conoco-Philips in northwestern New Mexico for emissions reductions in that corner of the state, and said “all producers ought to be able to do the same.”
“I think there’s no doubt that there are very good, creative, strong companies that want to do the right thing and to get out there and try to prevent leaks and do the kinds of things we would expect,” said Udall. Udall said his call for regulations would establish a floor and would be “encouraging people in the industry to do a lot better.”
“Operators have the ability to innovate,” said McEntyre, and “piles of regulation” are costly and counterproductive.
McEntyre said Udall “prefers a D.C-based solution,” while “we [NMOGA] prefer a New Mexico-based solution that’s actually getting the job done.”