ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico regulators started deliberations Thursday on another set of rules proposed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration to crack down on pollution across the oil and natural gas sector.
Their discussions came amid a rekindled national debate over domestic production as concerns grow over instability in the global energy market.
The proposal before the state Environmental Improvement Board is the second piece of the Democratic governor’s plan for tackling pollution blamed for exacerbating climate change. State oil and gas regulators adopted separate rules earlier this year to limit venting and flaring as a way to reduce methane pollution.
Board members acknowledged the complexity of the proposal that has been two years in the making and the subject of many hours of testimony by environmentalists, industry leaders and other experts.
Board members talked about the several counties that will fall under the rules as well as word changes that the petroleum industry has proposed for some sections of the proposal.
“You have dozens of decisions to make. Some of them are profoundly significant,” hearing officer Felicia Orth told the board.
The board has until April 25 to take a final vote.
This latest effort, led by the state Environment Department, focuses on oilfield equipment that emits smog-causing pollution. Environment Secretary James Kenney touted the rules as the most comprehensive in the U.S.
“New Mexicans can breathe easier knowing nationally-leading rules are imminent and the Environment Department will enforce them,” he told The Associated Press in a statement ahead of the board's deliberations.
New Mexico is home to part of the Permian Basin — one of the world’s most productive oilfields. Initial concerns focused on how New Mexico’s proposed rules could affect the industry and cut into state revenues. Those concerns shifted this week because of instability in the global energy market and the renewed debate over domestic production.
State House Minority Leader Jim Townsend pointed to skyrocketing gasoline prices and described the governor’s effort to limit oil and gas operations as “tone-deaf.”
“Our state is uniquely positioned to provide energy independence for our country and whether the progressives like that or not, we all need to do our part to ensure New Mexico and the United States of America are energy independent,” the Artesia Republican said. “New Mexicans across the board are feeling the burden of regressive political tactics that Lujan Grisham continues to force on each of us.”
Lujan Grisham earlier this week did join other governors in asking congressional leadership to support legislation that would suspend the federal gas tax until the end of the year.
The emissions proposal includes minimum requirements for operators to calculate their emissions and have them certificated by an engineer and to find and fix leaks on a regular basis. The rule would apply to compressors, turbines, heaters and other pneumatic devices.
If companies violate the rule, they could be hit with notices of violation, orders to comply and possibly civil penalties.
As the proposal was being finalized over the last year, environmentalists pressured the state not to allow any exceptions, pointing to elevated levels of emissions in New Mexico’s oilfields.
New Mexico officials have said that once adopted, the rule could lead to reductions in ozone-causing pollution that would equal taking 8 million cars off the road every year. Methane emissions also would be reduced as a result.