Brown: Continue investing in methane mitigation industry

(Published in The Los Cruces Sun News on August 1, 2021)

Across the nation, the methane mitigation industry is growing according to a new report from Datu Research. The report, Find, Measure, Fix: Jobs in the U.S. Methane Mitigation Industry, shows the U.S. methane mitigation industry has undergone massive growth as state and federal policy makers and industry are taking serious steps to address methane waste and pollution.

Among the findings: the industry’s service sector has nearly doubled in size since 2017, while the number of manufacturing firms has grown by one third since 2014. And more than 200 companies with over 750 locations across the country provide products and services to help the oil and gas industry reduce emissions. Las Cruces based LaSen is an example of a company developing cutting edge technologies and aiding companies to significantly cut methane waste on a cost-effective basis across the oil and gas supply chain.

Oil and gas operators release 1.1 million metric tons of methane through venting, flaring and leaks, wasting a valuable resource and contributing to unsafe smog levels and toxic air pollutants that harm the health of New Mexicans. Methane also is a powerful greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term.

The report found that “75 percent of the manufacturing firms and 88 percent of the service firms reported that if future state or federal methane emission rules were put in place, they would anticipate hiring more employees.”

That is a strong endorsement for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s move to adopt nation-leading methane rules, including the recently adopted Oil Conservation Division waste rule and the proposed New Mexico Environment Department oil and gas air pollution rule.

The New Mexico Environment Department can help the state clean up its air, protect the health of its communities and combat climate change all the while spurring additional job growth and investment in the methane mitigation sector. Kudos to Gov. Lujan Grisham and NMED Secretary Jim Kenney for strengthening the rule and developing a sound proposal that will bring environmental, public health and economic benefits to New Mexico.

While NMED has put forward a strong proposal, three key additions are critical to meet Governor Lujan Grisham’s goal of enacting “the country’s toughest methane and air pollution rules.”

It is critically important that the final rule is strengthened to protect frontline communities by requiring more frequent inspections to find and fix leaks — an approach that has been successfully implemented in the state of Colorado.

The final rule also must be strengthened to ensure New Mexico incorporates leading approaches to address pollution created during well completions. It should require operators to capture or combust emissions during completions including the initial flowback stages the state of Colorado now requires.

Finally, the final rule should strengthen pollution cutting measures on pneumatic controllers, the second-largest source of oil and gas methane pollution in New Mexico, by requiring operators to inspect gas-powered pneumatic controllers for malfunctions when operators conduct leak detection and repair inspections, as Colorado has done, and by accelerating the schedule for operators to retrofit their pneumatic controllers so they do not produce any methane emissions.

Finalizing strong rules this fall will be a win-win for New Mexico. The methane mitigation industry here already boasts 12 locations, including leak detection and repair services, equipment maintenance facilities, sales centers and company headquarters, a sector that is set for growth with the right policy drivers in place. The sooner New Mexico gets rules in place, the sooner New Mexicans will reap the benefits

Isaac Brown is director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions.