New Mexico adopts stiffer pollution rules for oil and gas

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (AP) — New Mexico regulators have approved more rules aimed at cracking down on pollution from the oil and natural gas industry amid the national debate over domestic production and concerns about global energy market instability.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration on Thursday praised the rules, calling them among the toughest in the nation.

“This is a momentous step forward in achieving our goals of lowering emissions and improving air quality. New Mexicans can be proud of the fact that we are leading the nation by implementing rules that protect our families and their environment,” said Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection.

The Democrat has pushed for more regulations throughout her first term and the rules approved this week by the state Environmental Improvement Board mark the second part of her plan for tackling pollution blamed for exacerbating climate change.

High fuel prices are hurting household finances as the New Mexico state government benefits from a financial windfall linked to record-setting oil production in the Permian Basin. New Mexico last year surpassed North Dakota to become the No. 2 oil producing U.S. state behind Texas.

State oil and gas regulators adopted separate rules earlier this year to limit venting and flaring at petroleum production sites to reduce methane pollution.

This latest effort, led by the state Environment Department, focuses on oilfield equipment that emits smog-causing pollution, specifically volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.

It includes minimum requirements for oil and natural gas producers to calculate their emissions and have them certificated by engineers and to find and fix leaks on a regular basis. The rule would apply to compressors, turbines, heaters and other pneumatic devices used at the production sites.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, which represents producers, expects the new rules will reduce emissions. But industry officials said New Mexico oil and gas production is responsible for only a small amount of the state’s ozone pollution.

Ozone pollutants also can also be found in wildfire smoke and vehicle emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering classifying some of the largest cities in the nation as “severe” ozone pollution violators.

The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico criticized the rules, saying the state opted to remove a more flexible regulatory framework for low-volume producers after being pressured by environmental groups. The industry group said Friday that the rules will lead to premature plugging of still-productive wells.

“The combination of these new federal and state oil and gas restrictions will continue to punish New Mexicans at the gas pump, undermine our domestic security, increase our dependency on foreign adversaries at a time when we should be increasing domestic production,” Jim Winchester, the association’s executive director, said in a statement.

New Mexico lawmakers in a recent special session approved tax rebates to offset increased prices for fuel and other consumer goods.

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