Aerospace study to help track methane emissions in New Mexico’s Permian Basin


A recently-completed aerospace study over the Permian Basin in southeast New Mexico will help state oil and gas regulators put more pressure on producers to ease the amount of methane emissions.

Some of the companies covered in the study were Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy and XTO Energy.

Permian Basin oil and gas regulators and operators continued to act to reduce emissions from the industry as researchers worked to uncover the extent of the potential pollution created by the release of methane and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from extraction operations.

As the State of New Mexico continued its process in developing regulations to crack down on emissions in the oilfield and improve its data collection and reporting on methane emissions, an aerospace company completed a survey of the Permian Basin covering more than 62,000 oil and wells and 25,000 miles of pipelines from more than 800 companies.

The study by Kairos Aerospace was conducted via aircraft over 6,444 square miles in West Texas and southeast New Mexico.

Data generated from the study could help better track emissions from facilities and ultimately lead to a reduction in pollution.

Kairos chief executive officer Steve Deiker said the project could also assist operators and oil and gas companies in cutting down on waste while decreasing the environmental impact of extraction.

“Our company has seen significant growth in the past two years and it is exciting to see the vast amount of actionable data we were able to collect through this survey, all while partnering the Permian’s major producers and midstream companies,” Deiker said.

“I’m proud of our team and the difference we’re making on our clients’ product loss rates and their environmental impact.”

The data is only provided to operators and is not released publicly.

In a recent report from the Western Environmental Law Center, the organization contended that the data pointed to a rise in methane emissions in the Permian, arguing that the State of New Mexico’s developing regulations should place stricter controls on the industry.

During the recent boom in production, the report read, flaring more than doubled between 2017 and 2018 from 14.9 billion cubic feet (bcf) to 33.4 bcf and declined slightly last year to 30.8 bcf.

The Law Center pointed to three companies Devon, Ameredev and XTO Energy as responsible for almost a third of all reported flaring in the basin.

Ameredev flared up to 78 percent of its gas production, read the study, while Spur flared 38 percent and Percussion flared 27 percent.

Major companies like Devon, XTO and Marathon flared between 4 percent and 12 percent of their total gas production, read the report.

And companies sought permitting to flare gas for longer periods of time in recent years, the report read, with XTO and EOG Resources being issued permits to flare wells continuously for more than four years.

The Law Center called on the State of New Mexico to alter its draft rules to place a ban on routine flaring and shut in wells that cannot send gas to market.

Thomas Singer at the Center said the State’s goal of capturing 98 percent of natural gas by 2026, as prescribed in the draft methane rules needed to be backed up by tough regulations that would be effective in both the Permian and San Juan basins.

Many environmental groups argued in recent weeks that a clause in the state’s proposed rules that facilities emitting 15 tons or less would receive some exemptions unfairly protected operators in the San Juan Basin in northwest New Mexico as that region has more marginal or stripper wells than the more production Permian.

“Requiring oil and gas companies to capture and sell 98% of the gas they produce, as proposed, would be the toughest venting and flaring rule in the nation,” Singer said.

“But it’s not enough to be tough on paper – the rule needs to be strengthened to provide more transparency and accountability for the public, to work equally well for the San Juan Basin and the New Mexico Permian and assure that it will be strictly enforced to end the ongoing, massive waste of natural gas.”

Across New Mexico’s eastern border in neighboring Texas, which shares the Permian, the Railroad Commission of Teas announced on Aug. 4 that it would also be taking measures to reduce emissions from flaring.

Between June 2019 and May 2020, the Commission reported Texas’ the portion of Texas’ gas production that was flared dropped by 79 percent while the production fell by 13 percent.

In the Commission’s proposal, time periods when flaring is allowed could be reduced by 50 to 80 percent, while incentives could be offered to operators to use emission-reducing technology.

The new proposal would also require operators to better justify their use of flaring to be approved.

A 30-day public comment period on Texas’ propose regulatory changes was opened until Sept. 4.

“Flaring is a byproduct of production, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue that’s worth examining more closely,” said Commissioner Ryan Sitton. “That’s why I undertook the first systematic study of flaring in Texas and how our volumes compare with other major energy producers. I’m glad the Railroad Commission of Texas is stepping up and continuing to lead.”

Chairman of the Commission Wayne Christian said now is the time to re-evaluate flaring regulations while production is lower.

“Today, we took an important first step in ensuring we have the data necessary to get an accurate view of the scope of flaring in Texas,” he said.

“Now is the opportune time to implement meaningful recommendations to reduce flaring before oil and gas production climbs back to previous highs.”