ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Environmental Protection Agency got some push-back from folks in New Mexico and other states at a hearing in the nation’s capital on Monday. The agency wants to delay a new methane-emission rule for the oil and gas industry on federal land – although methane leaked at well sites is linked to climate change and considered a risk to public health. New Mexico and California have already sued the EPA to keep the rule in place. Alexandra Merlino with the New Mexico chapter of the group Moms Clean Air Force spoke at the EPA hearing. She says energy producers need to be held accountable to update their equipment and stop methane leaks.
Today, Gov. Susana Martinez presided over a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico. The underground nuclear waste repository is officially back in action, nearly three years after two fires shut down operations. According to a story in last week’s Carlsbad Current-Argus, the facility’s employees started moving waste into the salt caverns last Wednesday: Rick Fuentes, president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers Union and waste handler at the site, confirmed that two pallets of low-level radioactive waste were emplaced near Room 5 in Panel 7 at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. “It went great,” Fuentes, who did not assist in the waste emplacement, said. “We’re excited to be back to work.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline may be 1,000 miles away from the southwest, but issues raised at Standing Rock—related to energy development and Indian lands and rights—resonate here in New Mexico. “In the case of Standing Rock, I think it sent a very strong message about what we can do, what being involved in a community can do, and the pressure it can put on an agency,” said Theresa Pasqual, an archaeologist and former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office who now works as a consultant. “I hope that here in New Mexico, especially for people that have been following the Standing Rock tribe’s movement to protect its water and to protect its cultural resources, that they will take an interest in what happens here, but also say, ‘What can I do? What can I do to be engaged locally?’” Doing so, she said, can change the “course of conversation” around many of the energy issues that affect New Mexico’s tribes. Related: The launch of our new environmental beat
Indeed, New Mexico’s tribes have struggled with issues not unlike those raised in Standing Rock for a long time.
The EPA announced a new rule to limit methane pollution from oil and gas wells and cut the size of the methane cloud over the Four Corners. The rule requires all U.S. oil and gas operators to capture methane and other volatile organic compounds that are currently released into the atmosphere during drilling. The rule affects new and modified oil and gas wells. The EPA is working on a rule to cover existing oil and gas wells. Nationally, the oil and gas industry releases 9.8 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere during the course of drilling each year.
A letter from four members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation supports stronger federal rules on wasted natural gas on public lands in light of a massive methane cloud over the Four Corners region. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall along with Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham signed onto the letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan want upcoming federal standards currently being discussed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency to address natural gas waste. The Four Corners region is an area with a large amount of natural gas production in the state, including on federal and state lands. “Too much of New Mexico’s natural gas is being lost due to venting, flaring and leaks,” the letter says. “A NASA study has identified a methane hot spot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin—the highest concentration in the nation—in an area of high oil and gas production.”