In New Mexico, energy industry representatives and environmentalist activists both agree on the need to reduce methane emissions linked to the surging natural gas sector. Unfortunately, they agree on little else — including the basic facts.

Methane is a greenhouse gas and a byproduct of fracking. Methane that escapes from New Mexico oil and gas facilities is damaging to both the climate and the state’s economy.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has published a new analysis that says over the next five years, New Mexico policymakers can eliminate up to 60 percent of oil and gas industry methane emissions with regulatory actions. The EDF says adopting stricter regulations could also add $730 million to the state’s budget over the next decade.

The EDF report contradicts the “Methane Mitigation Road Map” released by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) in June. The Road Map calls for minimal state regulations based on market-driven solutions to reduce methane emissions, saying existing rules should suffice. “Additional layers of state regulations will impose further requirements and costs without… emission reductions,” the Road Map reads.

The EDF study analyzed two different scenarios: It used policy recommendations suggested by the Road Map, and a series of regulatory changes the environmental group proposed, based on policies enacted in other oil- and gas-producing regions.

The oil-rich Permian Basin — in southeastern New Mexico and western Texas — is a major contributor to methane emissions, the EDF said. New Mexico oil and gas operators emit about 1 million metric tons of methane per year, reads the report, about five times more than previously believed.

“Our analysis finds that by implementing leading practices for methane capture, New Mexico can make a serious dent in its headline-making pollution problem,” the EDF’s Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs Jon Goldstein wrote in a supplement to the report. “These measures will protect children’s health and improve education funding for the next generation of New Mexicans.”

NMOGA spokesman Robert McIntyre said the EDF report was strictly a political document and not based on New Mexico data and models.

“Fundamentally it is based on a flawed and biased model that’s primary objective is to achieve a political agenda,” McIntyre told InsideSources. “The bottom line is that they [the EDF] have long published data that contradicts the EPA’s own data.

“The latest EPA data tells us that methane emissions are reducing — going down in New Mexico in the San Juan Basin and the Permian Basin — and the EDF data is saying the exact opposite,” McIntyre said. “They are basing it off of models and observations that were not tested in New Mexico, that were used in other states — they are not basing it on actual [New Mexico] emissions.”

Data released last year by the EPA showed methane emissions in the San Juan Basin to the northwest and Permian Basin in the southeast declined from 2016 to 2017.

NMOGA’s Road Map recommended annual leak detection and repair, exempting low-producing wells and facilities. It also suggested storage vessel control requirements with “appropriate thresholds” along with onsite monitoring of manual liquids unloading operations.

The EDF says NMOGA’s recommendations don’t go far enough. In its proposal, the EDF called for quarterly leak inspections and replacing pneumatic pumps and controllers with low- or no-bleed technologies. The EDF study said NMOGA’s methane-reduction proposals could lead to some of the “weakest” methane regulations in the nation.

“These results again underline the inadequacy of NMOGA’s proposal that, if adopted, would constitute the weakest methane regulations in the U.S.,” according to the EDF. “The pollution that leaks from oil and gas equipment contains harmful pollutants that can exacerbate asthma and cause cancer.

“Populations living close to these oil and gas facilities, particularly young children and the elderly, are at much greater risk for these health impacts,” the national environmental group said.

McIntyre says the EDF’s conclusions are based on a “policy objective.”

“Our proposal is grounded in facts based on the EPA’s actual reported data and offers recommendations targeted to the foremost common sources of methane emissions,” he said. “The EDF is a political document based on data that is tremendously inflated and manipulated in order to achieve a policy objective.”

“They want a set of rules that would impose heavy costs on our operators, and on our ability to grow,” he said. “We are looking at reasonable measures.”

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order in January creating a Climate Task Force, which directs state agencies to develop comprehensive, statewide methane rules and to work together with industry to reduce 45 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

New Mexico is the third-largest oil producer in the United States, a result of rapidly increasing production in the Permian Basin. New Mexico oil producers reached an annual record of 250 million barrels of oil in 2018, a 46 percent increase over 2017 figures, according to NMOGA data.