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New Mexico Projects Track Permian Basin Methane Emissions

In places such as the Permian Basin, the International Energy Agency estimates the oil and gas industry could use today's technologies to reduce methane emissions by 75%. (jpl.nasa.gov)
In places such as the Permian Basin, the International Energy Agency estimates the oil and gas industry could use today's technologies to reduce methane emissions by 75%. (jpl.nasa.gov)
October 9, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A study is under way to determine how much methane is escaping from New Mexico's Permian Basin, one of the most prolific oil and gas basins in the United States.

Methane emissions are 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at driving climate change in the near term, so the Environmental Defense Fund is leading an effort to measure the extent of the problem.

Susan Torres, public information officer for the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said the recent surge in oil and gas production has heightened concerns about methane emissions.

"It's contributing to climate change, and that's a really big factor into why we want to tackle that," she said. "It's the biggest portion of methane emissions in New Mexico, and the quick expansion that we've been seeing - it's been hard to keep up."

More than half of U.S. oil rigs are now in the Permian Basin. The new monitoring project supports New Mexico's goal to reduce the state's greenhouse-gas emissions by 45% from 2005 levels by 2030. An executive order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham mandates a rule-making process to curb emissions, and includes forming an advisory panel to get the job done.

The Permian Basin spans more than 86,000 square miles of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico. At a sustainability summit this month, the state announced its partnership with Santa Fe-based data analytics firm Descartes Labs, also to track methane.

Descartes Labs Head of Product Fritz Schlereth said cutting those emissions often is as simple as tightening valves, closing tanks inadvertently left open or relighting flares.

"In most cases, the majority of those emissions are actually coming from a relatively small number of leaks," he said, "and so it's actually a great opportunity to cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions."

Over the course of a year, emissions data collected will be made public in the hope that industry, regulators and communities can better address methane pollution and find solutions.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM