July 21, 2015

Massive methane cloud prompts calls to curb natural gas waste

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.

Four Corners Methane CloudSenators 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.”

One of the concerns is over the makeup of natural gas and its release into the air.

“Though methane is the largest constituent of natural gas, other toxic pollutants like benzene are often released at the same time,” the letter says.

The letter goes on to say that in addition to environmental concerns, the “methane pollution represents a significant economic loss to the state of New Mexico and the nation.” The natural gas that is vented or otherwise released is not used to determine royalty payments in natural gas on public lands.

“Many oil and gas producers are taking steps to curb natural gas waste, and federal action will help ensure consistency and encourage swift action,” Udall said. “Common-sense standards to decrease waste are a win for taxpayers and help ensure our New Mexicans will have clean air and water generations into the future.”

Luján, who represents the area in Congress, made the economic argument.

“New Mexico’s natural gas production on federal and tribal lands is an important part of our state’s economy, both creating jobs in our communities and contributing funds through royalty payments,” Luján said in a statement. “It is important that our natural gas resources are being used efficiently and effectively. With more than $100 million worth of natural gas in New Mexico being lost, addressing this issue with cost-effective methods for reducing waste will have a positive impact on our economy as well as our environment.”

New rules would have the support of environmental groups and other stakeholders in the region.

“Senator Udall and New Mexico’s congressional leaders deserve praise for their strong stand on an issue that is so important to taxpayers and the health of their constituents back home,”
Senior Energy Policy Manager at the Environmental Defense Fund Jon Goldstein said in a statement. “Strong federal rules will help drive sensible, cost-effective solutions to a problem that is currently costing New Mexico more than $100 million per year in wasted gas from federal and tribal lands, not to mention contributing to increasing levels of unhealthy smog pollution.”