Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Despite aggressive rules to limit N.M. gas flaring, it goes on

Incomplete combustion in a flare, as pictured, generates
more emissions. (Photo from WildEarth Guardians)

“Laws without enforcement are just good advice.” --Attributed to Abraham Lincoln

In New Mexico, when Michelle Lujan Grisham became governor in 2019, she issued an aggressive executive order that "set a goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030," reports Martha Pskowski of Inside Climate News. "In May 2021, New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department adopted new rules that prohibit routine flaring and venting and require operators to achieve a 98% gas-capture rate by 2026." But state records from December and January "show venting and flaring increasing, not decreasing. According to the division, from November to December 2022 flaring increased 39 percent and venting increased 161 percent."

Delaware Basin is a rich section of the Permian Basin.
(Map by C. Cunningham, Albuquerque Journal)

Pskowski visited Carlsbad, N.M., in the heart of the Permian Basin, the nation's most productive oil patch, to see examples of how methane regulation is failing. "Transmission lines and flare stacks dot the horizon. . . . One flare sent off dark smoke, a sign that it wasn’t burning efficiently," Pskowski explains. "Flares are designed to eliminate methane from natural gas. But unlit flares and inefficient combustion mean that flaring still emits large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas . . . . The Environmental Defense Fund’s Permian MAP project found that the Permian was the highest methane-emitting oil and gas basin in the nation. . . . advocates say that in the absence of rigorous state field enforcement, companies are continuing wasteful methane flaring and venting."

Environmental advocates aren't the only ones who have noted the lack of compliance. "Recent flyovers by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, independent monitoring by environmental advocates and NASA satellite imagery have documented significant methane releases," Pskowski adds. "To date, only two companies have been fined for unauthorized flaring since the rules went into effect. . . . industry watchdogs warn that counting on operators to self-report flaring and venting is a failing strategy." A state spokesman "said that the agency relies on inspections, audits and internal reviews to verify the data companies report. But its capacity for on-site inspections is severely limited. Funds are allocated for only 14 inspectors statewide, with two of those positions currently vacant."

After viewing videos of apparently bad flaring, Pskowski contacted four companies involved. "In one case, the company acted," and another said it "eliminated routine flaring at its U.S. operations in 2022 and met the 98 percent gas capture rules," she reports, adding that other companies didn't respond to her requests for comment. 

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