State regulators on Monday presented a proposed rule to reduce emissions of fossil fuels that cause ground-level ozone, a pollutant that can be harmful to public health and the environment.
Regulators, industry representatives and residents have started talks – which could last up to two weeks – over the state’s “precursor ozone rule” proposed by the state’s Department of the Environment to reduce common pollutants from oil fields, mainly in the Permian and San Juan basins.
Lawyers, technicians, and other analysts spent much of the day presenting data and haggling before the state’s Environmental Improvement Council about stringency of regulations to reduce pollution known to impair breathing and , in higher doses, damage the lungs.
State and federal officials have said their monitoring devices show nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds – called VOCs – which form ozone, have been on the rise at oil and gas sites in recent years and need to be reduced. Environmentalists agreed.
“These pollutants are harmful to human health,” said Charles de Saillan, an attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. “One of the VOCs emitted by oil and gas is benzene, a known human carcinogen.”
Lowering VOCs would help curb the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change, said de Saillan.
Climatologists estimate that methane is 80 times more powerful at warming the earth over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide.
The new rule would initially cover the counties of Chaves, DoÃ±a Ana, Eddy, Lea, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, San Juan and Valencia.
It primarily targets counties where emissions meet at least 90 percent of the federal standard for ambient air quality.
A key part of the rule would be how the amount of emissions from the wells would trigger inspections.
An annual inspection would be required for less than 2 tonnes; semi-annual for 2 to 5 tons; and quarterly for more than 5 tonnes.
Having to perform more than one spot inspection on less polluting wells is a sore point for the industry, which claims it is onerous for small operators.
This grievance was not specifically voiced by oil and gas officials on Monday, but they made it clear that they believe much of the regulation was unwarranted.
They challenged the methodology the state used to draft the provisions, such as tighter monitoring of low-production wells.
They also asked how effective it will be in reducing ozone compared to its cost.
” It is very expensive [rule] compared to a lot of those who appear before this board, âsaid John Hiser, an attorney representing the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. âThe other thing thatâ¦ is important about this rule is that it has a somewhat limited impact on those ozone levels. It is not a quick fix that will solve all of New Zealand’s ozone problems. Mexico.
The state’s own modeling shows the rule would reduce ozone by less than one part per billion on average in the northwest and by 0.2 parts per billion in the southeast, Hiser said, referring to to the two oil-rich basins.
But regulators estimate the rule will reduce precursors by around 260 million pounds per year. It would also reduce methane pollution by about 851 million pounds per year.
Removing this amount of ozone is equivalent to taking 8 million cars off the road each year, they estimate.
A federal official said monitoring shows pollutants drifting into Carlsbad Caverns National Park from Permian oil fields.
âI think the evidence is pretty clear that there is an exceedance of the ozone standard there, and part of the solution is to look at the oil and gas emissions in that region,â John said. Vimont of the Air Resources Division of the National Park Service.
Kayley Shoup of Citizens Caring for the Future said she believed the government was protecting her and other residents of the Carlsbad area from toxic pollution, such as ozone, but then found the monitoring was lax.
âDue to the abysmal lack of enforcement in the Permian, we need to have stricter rules such as those proposed today,â Shoup said. âRules that require things like frequent inspections, especially at sites close to schools and neighborhoods. They are currently our only line of defense against methane and VOC pollution.
Lawyer Louis Rose, representing the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, said that in oil-producing regions, ozone should be reduced by focusing on reducing nitrogen oxides, not VOCs.
This plan goes too far in trying to reduce VOCs, which have minimal contribution to ozone formation, Rose said. Because VOCs interlock with methane, it’s an indirect way to regulate methane, he added.
“We believe [VOCs] do not justify the degree of control the ministry is proposing over VOC emissions, âRose said. âThis is not a rule on methane. Any consideration of this advice on methane reductions … we believe it is wrong and would violate this law. “
A state regulator has argued that the crackdown on methane as well as ozone is vital for the well-being of communities.
This methane rule correlates with the adoption of rules by the state’s Petroleum Conservation Division in March that limit the venting and flaring of natural gas, said Sandra Ely, director of the Division of Natural gas. state environmental protection.
Together, they will reduce ozone and greenhouse gases, better protect public health, and be a model for the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s methane rules, Ely said. The fossil fuel industry accounts for 53 percent of the state’s greenhouse gases, she added.
If the state doesn’t take action, she said, the federal government will – and that would increase the industry’s regulatory burden and costs much more.
“High levels of ozone pollution not only endanger public health by breathing unhealthy air, but could lead the EPA to step in to demand that the state implement federal requirements to reduce pollution in the area. ‘ozone,’ Ely said.