As we wait for finalized* rules from the New Mexico Environment Department, there’s a couple of pieces of news we should look at ahead of time so we can better understand why these seemingly simple rules have taken so long and caused so much political tension.
While we have been talking about “a methane rule” or “the methane rule” for years, there are actually two different organizations tasked with different parts of the regulation of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in New Mexico, the Oil Conservation Division (OCD) which is a division in the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD). OCD released its rule back in March and in general, it was a comprehensive rule that does what it’s intended to do: stops the oil and gas industry from purposefully wasting methane as a marketable resource through things like venting and flaring.
However, the Environment Department’s role of monitoring the UNintended leaks of methane and other Greenhouse gases (GHGs) has a different role and has different enforcement goals around that end. The early look we had of the proposed rule last year had MAJOR loopholes in it that excluded 95% of the wells in New Mexico from falling under the purview of their rule and well, a rule under which 95% of anything is excluded isn’t much of a rule, right?
So we are hopeful that a revised rule to be released soon by NMED will address this issue so that we can feel good about the state living up to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s bold and nation-leading executive order from 2019 directing the state to come up with these rules. This is especially important in the face of the damning Huffington Post article last week where investigators published several emails from top oil and gas lobbyists in the state working to persuade the Governor’s team to push back on President Biden’s own executive order temporarily halting lease sales of public land for more oil drilling. It’s not untoward or unheard of for the sitting administration to engage with industry groups or anything like that, but it was concerning that letters from influential members of the oil and gas industry like Aztec Well Drilling’s Jason Sandel would be followed so closely by the MLG Administration granting their wishes and weighing in with the Biden Administration.
We always have to consider how much political muscle the oil and gas industry wields in this state, on both sides of the aisle. It behooves us to keep an eye on everyone involved to ensure that promises made about “nation-leading” methane rules aren’t watered down at the behest of industry insiders.
And besides, the oil and gas industry doesn’t even need the help of the state in the first place, they’re doing just fine. They keep bragging about their “record-setting” production from last year DESPITE the downturn because of COVID. And, just today (May 4, 2021) New Mexico announced it had its largest-ever monthly profit from oil and gas royalties on state lands. After the outright bonanza under Trump’s final year in office, oil companies in New Mexico already have over 6,000 leases to drill the state, enough that the corporate big wigs in Houston and Wall Street have repeatedly admitted to investors and the press that they’ll be fine for years to come even if the ban lasts longer than a few months.
We know that the governor and her team at both the Environment Department and EMNRD are working hard to keep making New Mexico a safer and healthier place for our families to live and thrive. Between federal and state regulations on everything from abandoned well reclamation to methane regulations, we are poised to see some real change happen if we ourselves hold our officials accountable. Hopefully, the second draft of NMED’s rules will right their earlier wrongs be something we can again cheer on the administration and not grant the wishes of those that want to see the vast majority of the wells in the state remain unregulated.