Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.


Canaries were iconically used in coal mines to detect the presence of carbon monoxide. The bird’s small size, high metabolism and rapid breathing rate, compared to the miners, caused birds in dangerous mines to die before the miners, giving uncaged humans a chance to get away from the toxic fumes. Colorado-based Project Canary is set to follow in the birds’ “footsteps” for oil and gas (O&G) in New Mexico. Through the Canary X project, lasers will be used to detect gases and act as a real-time emissions monitoring system.

Project Canary, formed as a Public Benefit Corporation in 2018, was named “Best for the World 2021″ B Corp. TrustWell by Project Canary offers an independent certification process that helps to ensure operators follow environmental standards on oil wells. The company provides O&G with comprehensive well-pad and mid-stream measurement-based emission profiles via continuous monitoring technology.

Analyzing more than 600 operational data points, Project Canary provides measurement-based emissions certificates for the O&G industry. The staff of Project Canary includes scientists, engineers and veteran industry operators.

Project Canary is working with Texas-based Chisholm Energy LLC, a privately held O&G company headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas with operating assets in Lea and Eddy counties. Project Canary is deploying its Canary X technology and Trustwell certification to Chisholm’s facilities.

Project Canary’s Canary X and certification cost around $20,000 per production pad location, which typically includes multiple producing wells. Brian Miller, Project Canary’s VP of growth and technology, said the company contracts with 50 companies across the U.S and is in “discussions with dozens of others” on its products.

The state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department has implemented rules to help prevent routine venting and flaring and major and minor spills by energy companies operating in the state.

The New Mexico Environment Department is currently working through its ozone precursor rules to curb ground-level pollutants caused by oil and gas operators.

As the state looks to curb emissions, New Mexico’s O&G industry is facing standards never before imposed on them. Facing new state O&G standards, companies that certify operations and monitor for emissions are in demand.

Companies like DCP Operating Company LP, one of the largest natural gas processing firms in the nation, will be considering companies like Project Canary to stay compliant with new regulations. DCP gathers and processes gas for customers like Chevron, Cimarex, ConocoPhillips, Devon and Oxy in the Permian Basin.

DCP recently agreed to a settlement and $950,000 penalty with the New Mexico Environment Department over illegal emissions of pollutants. The penalty reverts to the State of New Mexico’s general fund and is not kept by NMED.

“New Mexico is not a sacrifice zone. DCP has shown a blatant disregard for New Mexico communities in which it operates and clean, breathable air by spewing millions of pounds of harmful pollution into frontline communities,” said NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney.