New Mexico depends on the oil and gas industry as a critical provider of affordable, reliable energy. Acting as the financial backbone for many communities and families, the industry supplies thousands of jobs to New Mexicans and generates billions in state revenue each year.
While the industry is essential to New Mexico’s economy, it must operate in a socially responsible manner by reducing emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). As New Mexico aims to be a leader in emissions reductions, it must consider new and advanced technologies to detect emissions when drafting rules that balance economic and environmental concerns.
As the CEO of a methane detection company, I’m driven by making the oil and gas industry more efficient. This helps the profitability and sustainability of the industry, and helps reduce emissions — a rare win-win that also drives our entire crew.
Unfortunately, as currently written, the state’s draft methane rules rely on archaic and ineffective methods for monitoring industry sites, such as visiting each site on foot and scanning each piece of regulated equipment by hand. Subject to human error, this method is ineffective at reducing emissions, exorbitantly expensive, time consuming and exposes field crew to needless safety risks.
Recently developed laser imaging, detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology can scan up to hundreds of sites per day from aircraft and catch greater than 90 percent of basin-wide emissions. Instead of visiting each site with ground crews and searching each piece of equipment by hand for emissions, operators can receive an “answer key” that pinpoints and quantifies their emissions.
The operators then only need to deploy their crews to the emitting equipment. This capability represents massive safety and cost savings for both the state and the operators and has been shown to reduce emissions more effectively than on-the-ground crew monitoring.
To allow the oil and gas industry to use advanced technology like this, New Mexico’s methane rules need important changes, additions, and reinforcements:
Allow operators to detect methane emissions as a surrogate for detecting VOCs. Research shows that where there are VOCs, there is also methane. However, the current rule specifies only the detection of VOCs, which is more costly and time consuming than detecting methane instead. Allowing the industry to detect methane as a surrogate for detecting VOCs will save time and money.
Set specific and impactful detection sensitivity requirements. Both industry and academic organizations have determined that a methane detection sensitivity around 1 kilogram per hour for 50 percent detection probability will uncover the vast majority of basin-wide emissions.
Require site-level emissions reduction. The rule should not allow the use of poor detection sensitivity that catches a very large emission on one site to “offset” missed emissions on other sites. This is consistent with interpretations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Not limit detection technologies to only “continuous” monitoring. Continuous monitoring requires on-site sensors operating at all times. This handcuffs the industry to expensive solutions that can trigger costly false alarms due to other emissions sources and that struggle to locate and quantify emissions sources to guide repair.
Require auditability. Regardless of the technology used for detecting emissions, the data generated must provide auditable proof (such as a documented timestamp and spatial coverage for a sensor scan) that ensures the infrastructure was scanned.
Provide streamlined and broadly applicable acceptance of new and emerging technologies.
Put simply, to be on the forefront of global efforts to fight emissions, New Mexico must also be on the forefront of industry-leading emissions detection technologies.
By framing its methane regulations around the most advanced detection technologies, New Mexico can establish itself as a leader in emissions reductions efforts and serve and protect its citizens and economy for generations to come.
Dr. Pete Roos is the Chief Executive Officer of Bridger Photonics, a methane detection company headquartered in Bozeman, Montana. For more information visit bridgerphotonics.com/gas-mapping-lidar.