Council hearing on the ozone pollutants rule on September 20

Days before a public hearing on the precursor ozone pollutants rule, changes were still underway in the proposal that the New Mexico Department of the Environment plans to bring to the board. .

The Environmental Improvement Board public hearing will begin at 9 a.m. on Monday, September 20.

Among the changes there has been a back and forth regarding inspections of wells that have the potential to emit only small amounts of pollutants.

The ozone precursor pollutants rule aims to control emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas infrastructure. These emissions react with sunlight to form ozone, which can lead to breathing problems.

Tackling ozone precursor emissions will also help tackle methane emissions, officials said, and NMED Secretary James Kenney said the rule his department wrote is intended to work in conjunction with methane waste rules developed by the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. The REMD’s rules for methane waste received approval from the Oil Conservation Commission earlier this year.

Environmental groups say a key provision in the ozone precursor pollutant rules is regular leak detection and repair. For this reason, they became concerned when the NMED amended proposed rules to require annual inspections using methods such as optical gas imaging cameras for low emission single-emission wells. inspection during the life of these wells.

These sinks can continue to function for decades, and during that time advocates have argued that the emissions could go unnoticed and impact both human health and the environment.

“Rural New Mexicans are at a huge disadvantage and we rely on regulators like NMED to protect us,” activist and rancher Don Schreiber told NM Political Report last week.

Then on Monday, Environment Department staff met with advocacy groups to hear the concerns. NMED Secretary James Kenney told NM Political Report the department would introduce rules requiring annual leak detection, as was included in a late-July departmental filing on file.

“We are very pleased that the state is reverting to what we thought was a very strict rule for leak detection and repair inspections which compares favorably to what other leading states have done,” said Jon Goldstein. , director of regulation. and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Kenney said the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association has expressed concern about the economic impacts that annual leak detection using torch cameras could have on small operators. Even as part of the one-time proposal that NMED has since turned the tide on, Kenney said the rules would still have required audio, visual and scent inspections, or AVO inspections, on a monthly basis.

Industry groups like NMOGA are concerned about the costs of implementing the requirements of the proposed rule. NMOGA has estimated that 87% of state operators will not be able to absorb these costs, which include upgrading facilities as well as increased leak detection and repair.

Goldstein said AVO inspections are not enough to detect leaks of an “odorless and colorless gas” and that the emission potential of the state calculates the full emission potential.

The back and forth between industry, conservationists and NMED is not unusual, Kenney said. He said this was done transparently and expects those back and forth to help develop some of the toughest rules in the country.

While NMED will introduce annual leak detection as a proposed rule, Kenney said he anticipates that the single requirement for small wells will be raised by at least one party in the case. He said it would be up to the Environmental Improvement Council to decide which requirement to meet.

Occidental Petroleum finds common ground with environmentalists

Annual leak inspections are supported by Occidental Petroleum, or Oxy, one of the state’s largest oil producers. Oxy reached out to environmental groups in hopes of finding common ground and while the company and nonprofits disagreed on all measures, they did agree. agreed on several key measures.

In an emailed statement, the company said it has a long-standing policy “to seek continuous improvement in resource recovery, conservation, emissions prevention and energy efficiency in our operations. operations, including ongoing efforts to manage and capture volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, which are precursors of ozone.

Oxy said he supports the development of ozone-related rules for NMED and that conversations between the company and environmental groups could help create a better rule for New Mexico.

“Oxy has a long history of working with environmental groups and other stakeholders to promote regulations that meet the health, safety and environmental priorities of our regulators, including the achievement of air quality targets. , while supporting local investments, tax revenues and employment. We find that policies and regulations developed and supported by a consensus of stakeholders who bring different perspectives to the table are more practical, sustainable, and create the best results.

While Oxy supports annual inspections of low emission potential wells, the company says there is technology available that can be used in place of the optical gas imaging cameras that will be just as effective. For example, it has installed small sensors at some of its sites. In addition to audio and visual recording, the sensors provide real-time data to quickly detect leaks, which will lead to faster repairs, according to testimony by witness Oxy Danny Holderman, who is the director of assets. of the company in the Delaware Basin Business Unit.

In addition to supporting annual inspections, Oxy has also found common ground with advocates in areas such as requiring more frequent inspections for wells within 1,000 feet of schools, homes and businesses. and ensuring that emissions during well completion and reconstitution are captured.

These are two areas that Goldstein said his group will lobby on during the hearing.

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