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EnergyPlex conference discusses flaring rules

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Three New Mexico cabinet secretaries in a live remote panel concluded the fourth EnergyPlex Conference last week with discussion of economic development, methane rules and legislative priorities.

The Economic Development Corporation of Lea County sponsored and facilitated the conference that included both pre-recorded and live presentations.

Economic Development Department Secretary Alicia Keyes credited the current coronavirus pandemic for giving special opportunities to the state.

“The silver lining is we’ve never been busier. Companies want to move to New Mexico. They see it as a relatively safe state. They see it as an opportunity to get out of the big cities,” Keyes said. “I think right now is our time to shine in New Mexico. Right now is our time to double down on economic development because we do have an opportunity we didn’t have before.”

Questioned about important legislation her department sees in the 60-day state legislative session starting in January, Keyes said she will be requesting additional funding for programs that support businesses.

“Being able to offer economic incentives to grow and create jobs is more important now as businesses face increased uncertainty,” Keyes said.

Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst, was asked about methane emission rules currently being written. She said there are gaps in the data available.

“The main rule is that we have to start with data collection. We know we have a lot of gaps in our data, so phase one of our draft rule is about getting that venting and flaring data more robust,” Cottrell Propst said. “Phase two is actually starting to bring down the emissions from the industry. Everybody will get to a 98% gas capture by the end of 2026.”

Cottrell Propst acknowledged some oil and gas companies already capture more than the 98% to be required.

“For those that aren’t (at the 98% level), we’ll work with them to set a reasonable schedule to get there,” she added.

In the discussions with oil and gas experts, Cottrell Propst said companies often urged the new rules retain technology flexibility rather than prescribe specific methods of attaining the desired results.

“We tried to provide as much flexibility as possible in that rule,” she said. “Operators can do it however they choose as long as they can document that it’s happening and we can verify that.”

Environment Department Secretary James Kenney added his department hopes to submit the proposed rules in January, pointing out they are specific to ozone depleting gases such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.

Kenney said he expects, after public hearings, those rules may go into effect in the late summer time frame of 2021.

On the question of legislative priorities, Kenney said some changes need to be made to the hemp manufacturing law and utility operators’ certification fees need to be raised.

Meanwhile, he noted the department has funding available for some water-related capital improvement projects.

“I would encourage anybody who is looking to do capital improvements, especially in the public sector, to approach us and talk about how they could use that money, particularly for water projects,” Kenney said.

Also participating in the second session of the first online EnergyPlex Conference were:

• State Sen. John Arthur Smith discussing the state’s budget

• URENCO USA CEO Karen Fili discussing nuclear power issues

• Powering New Mexico’s spokeswoman Jessie Hunt discussing renewable energy

• Covenant Health System CEO Richard Parks addressing his company’s purchase of Lea Regional Medical Center and construction of a new Covenant hospital in Hobbs

• Produced Water Research Water Consortium director Mike Hightower discussing the needs for a good water planning strategy

• New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn and Permian Basin Petroleum Association President Ben Shepperd addressing the current conditions and future of the oil and gas industry

Both sessions of the EnergyPlex Conference are available for viewing online at the EDCLC website www.energyplexconference.org.

Curtis Wynne may be contacted at reporter3@hobbsnews.com .

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