July 27, 2023

NM’s environment secretary participates in White House Methane Summit

NASA JPL-Caltech, University of Michigan

In 2014, the NOAA documented an alarming methane “hotspot” hovering above the Four Corners area. Subsequent research from NASA concluded the hotspot was largely due to oil and gas production in the region.

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney touted the state’s efforts to curb emissions from oil and gas during the first-ever White House Methane Summit this week in Washington D.C.

During the event, federal officials announced the creation of a new White House Methane Task Force. They also spoke about the need to drastically reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industries, which could have benefits beyond climate change mitigation. Oil and gas emissions contribute to health problems in frontline communities. Meanwhile, officials say, efforts to reduce emissions can create jobs with high wages and can help save consumers money.

Because of the efforts underway in New Mexico, including the ozone precursor prevention rules that NMED adopted last year, the White House invited Kenney to participate in a panel during the summit called Building a Diverse Coalition for Rapid Response.

“It was really a real big honor and a big deal for our state to have such a prominent role in the event,” Kenney told NM Political Report.

While on that panel, Kenney emphasized how New Mexico worked with stakeholders to establish the ozone precursor rules as well as the complementary methane waste rules that the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department developed and enforces.

White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi praised New Mexico’s policies.

“The (President Joe) Biden administration is turbocharging our efforts to cut wasteful and harmful methane leaks by harnessing innovative technologies and enlisting skilled workers in this urgent task. President Biden is marshaling an all of government approach to meet the moment — tackling this super-pollutant which is responsible for so much of the warming that, every day, drives extreme weather related destruction in communities all across America,” he said in a press release. “New Mexico is a critical partner for us in this effort, and is a national leader on tackling methane pollution. New Mexico is proof that strong climate action and good economic policy go hand-in-hand.”

In terms of the methane waste rules, the new policies have resulted in a 36 percent reduction in lost natural gas and a 69 percent decrease in venting and flaring even as production has increased 10 percent, according to statistics from EMNRD. 

New Mexico’s regulations include requiring 98 percent of the methane from oil and gas operations to be captured, limiting the use of flaring and requiring leak detection and repair. 

The ozone precursor rule is being implemented in several steps.

Kenney said that ozone levels in New Mexico are still high and are trending upward. However, he said, that trend should change as the rule is implemented. If the monitors around the state do not show decreases in ozone levels in the future, Kenney said that would indicate a widespread noncompliance with the new regulations.

“New Mexico is leading the way in decarbonizing every sector of our thriving economy – from oil and gas to power generation to transportation,” Kenney said in a press release. “Our partnership with the Biden-Harris Administration continues to support our efforts to hold oil and gas polluters accountable and protect frontline communities.”

Matthew Maez, a spokesman for NMED, said some of Kenney’s takeaways from the summit include that the Opportunity Scholarship will help the state “build the pipeline of people needed to develop, deploy and sustain ongoing reductions.” 

“New Mexico is uniquely situated to fill the jobs pipeline,” he said.

The Opportunity Scholarship can be used to cover up to 100 percent of the tuition at New Mexico colleges and universities for eligible New Mexico residents.

Additionally, Maez said NASA and NMED are considering performing unannounced surveillance of oil and gas operators to ensure emissions compliance.

In the next year, Maez said NMED will move from technology discussions to data discussions.

“Secretary Kenney is excited to get specific operator emission data in the hands of the public, investors, private equity and insurance companies so everyone can assess performance and compliance,” he said.