The future of methane emissions in New Mexico: Insight M's thoughts on NMED’s final Ozone Precursor Rule

Insight M
Wide angle view of an oil well in an arid, hilly landscape

Regulators in New Mexico recently capped off a multi-year effort to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector with the release of the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) final Ozone Precursor Rule. So, what’s in the rule and what does it mean for the future of methane emissions in New Mexico? Read on to find out.

First, a point of clarification. Although the rule is commonly referred to as a methane” rule, it also targets important ozone precursor pollutants: volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Methane is typically emitted alongside other VOCs from oil and gas, so it becomes a two birds with one stone” strategy to target methane and VOCs.

What is New Mexico requiring?

The final ozone precursor rule requires a suite of pollution controls, including, of course, leak detection and repair. We won’t list all the requirements here but at a high level, New Mexico appears to have consciously decided to align many of the requirements with the proposed EPA methane rule, NSPS OOOOb and EG OOOOc. You can read more about our thoughts on EPA’s proposed rules here. Overall, this appears to be a savvy move that will hopefully get New Mexico the emission reductions it needs without creating needless complexity for regulated entities.

For the majority of sites, New Mexico is requiring quarterly leak surveys, which is similar to EPA’s proposed rules. They do offer some important relief for low production sites, which only need to inspect either once or twice a year depending on their size.

What sets New Mexico apart?

The state does a few interesting things in its rulemaking. To start, it expands leak detection requirements for any site located within 1,000 feet of an occupied structure in an effort to emphasize public health and safety. Operators of such sites must inspect for leaks quarterly, regardless of size. That’s a big win for environmental advocates who wanted to see a tougher final rule.

Second, New Mexico provides an exemption for small businesses that may struggle to comply with the suite of regulations. This exemption is targeted at the true mom-and-pop” operators – with fewer than ten employees and less than $250,000 in revenue. It’s an interesting approach that can provide some relief from the final rule without sacrificing environmental gains.

Lastly, NMED also looks ready to jump into supporting advanced technology. Although we’re still awaiting details, NMED wrote directly into its rule that advanced technology may be used to find leaks. Perhaps most interesting, though, is that NMED committed to providing an application to evaluate alternative technology using a division-supplied form. Many regulators leave this process open ended, putting the burden on industry and technology developers to guess what regulators want to see. NMED appears ready to provide much-needed certainty and clarity in the process.

NMED is also committing to a 90-day review timeline for all applications in the regulation itself. This again sends a strong signal to the community: the state is ready to do everything it can to get new technology out into the field to eliminate leaks. Many regulators let alternative technology reviews languish in opaque and open-ended review processes, and NMED appears to be setting a refreshing new direction. Insight M is working with New Mexico regulators to gain approval for our technology, which is already ALARM-compliant.