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Venting of Methane Hurts State

By June 26, 2017September 29th, 2022Climate & Energy

Published in the Albuquerque Journal
New Mexicans acknowledge that oil and gas revenues are important to our state, so it was puzzling to read Ryan Cangiolosi’s opinion that was published on June 4 titled “Oil, gas revenues important to N.M.” The industry’s outsized role in our state is exactly why we need state and federal efforts to limit methane waste. Methane, after all, is the primary component of the natural gas that heats our homes and generates millions per year in state revenues.
Oil and gas companies routinely and deliberately vent methane into the atmosphere, burn it as a waste product from oil drilling, and allow it to leak unchecked from poorly maintained equipment, robbing taxpayers of needed funding to the tune of $330 million every year from federal and tribal lands alone. Methane is also a powerful climate pollutant that is contributing to our warming world, impacting our water supply, food supplies and worsening wildfires here in New Mexico, where low-income, rural, Latino and indigenous communities are already feeling these impacts.
We need look no further than the Four Corners “hot spot” to know that industry isn’t dealing with these emissions on their own. Directly attributed to oil and gas sources by a NASA study, the Four Corners “hot spot” is a cloud of methane the size of Delaware hanging over the San Juan Basin. That’s a cloud of pollution that is contributing to respiratory illnesses instead of helping pay for essential services for New Mexicans.
A vast majority of everyday New Mexicans support efforts to reduce methane pollution on public lands. Earlier this year, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management adopted a rule that prevents methane waste by requiring oil and gas companies – the nation’s largest source of industrial methane emissions – to invest in sensible controls to stop waste in existing operations. Low-cost methane waste technology is readily available and represents a growing industry creating new jobs here in New Mexico.
New Mexico’s U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich led a successful fight to defend the Bureau of Land Management methane rule in Congress – and won with bipartisan support. This is a huge political win for the people of New Mexico, who have spoken up about this issue over the past four years as these rules were developed. And our senators aren’t alone. We also thank Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, State Auditor Tim Keller and Attorney General Hector Balderas for their strong support for the rule.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has suspended critical provisions in both the Environmental Protection Agency and BLM rules. This puts our air at risk, leaves the Four Corners methane cloud intact, and costs New Mexico taxpayers and our schools millions of dollars in royalty revenue.
New Mexicans know we are in an economic crisis. We live it every day. The importance of the oil and gas industry to our economy does not mean a free pass on being a good corporate neighbor or wasting state and federally owned oil and gas minerals.
We don’t take this lightly. We need to take action now to prevent the worst effects of climate change from impacting our children. We need to increase state funding for urgent needs like education and health care. And we need to help New Mexico families that depend on jobs in the energy sector to keep putting food on the table. Limiting methane waste is a sensible alternative that does all these things. It is time the state oil and gas industry accepted that fact and lived up to their public relations promises.
New Mexicans want to live healthy lives and prosper in their home state. We need more state leaders who will take action to address the pollution that is impacting our families and invest in healthy, sustainable communities.
Given the grip that the oil and gas lobby has over Washington, we need a governor more than ever who will act to limit methane waste, protect taxpayers and the air we and our children breathe.
Demis Foster is the executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico, a nonpartisan organization working statewide to connect the people of New Mexico to their political power to protect our air, land, water and communities for a healthy Land of Enchantment.