June 21, 2016

Report: Two NM regions among top five for methane emissions

Margaret Wright

Oil pump in southeast New Mexico.

New Mexico’s two biggest energy-producing regions are two of the most-polluted in the nation when it comes to methane emissions, according to a study released today.

Oil rig in southeast New Mexico. Photo by Margaret Wright

Margaret Wright

Oil rig in southeast New Mexico. Photo by Margaret Wright

Both the San Juan Basin and the Permian Basin rank as the third and fourth most methane polluted regions in the country, according to the Washington D.C.-based progressive think tank Center for American Progress’ “The Who’s Who of Methane Pollution” report.

The report is based on 2014 data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The San Juan Basin, located mostly in northwestern New Mexico, emits the most methane per well in the country.

Methane emissions are commonly viewed as a greenhouse gas more harmful than carbon dioxide and the report underlines this point and pushes the federal government for strong regulations limiting them. They can cause respiratory problems and loss of oxygen when people are exposed to them.

On a Monday conference call introducing the report, Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Glenn Shiffbauer noted that the San Juan Basin is the bigger pollutant of methane because the hazardous chemical is tied more to natural gas production than oil production.

“We need strong action in at the [federal] Interior Department to ensure this industry is operating responsibly in the state,” Shiffbauer said.

Center for American Progress Domestic Energy Policy Director Alison Cassady argued that regulators can put in place “best practices” for energy companies to follow to cut down methane emissions.

Progressive and environmental groups have pushed for new federal rules restricting flaring of methane.

Don Schreiber, a rancher who lives in the San Juan Basin, said his home is “ground zero” to experiencing methane pollution by being surrounded by 122 wells, many on his land.

“This report is very disturbing for our family to see this in black and white,” Schreiber said on the conference call.

All of those wells, he said, are owned by ConocoPhillips, a Texas-based multinational corporation. The company is indeed the biggest operator in the San Juan Basin, operating more than half of the nearly 19,000 wells in the area.

ConocoPhillips is also the largest methane emitter in the country, pushing out more than 4.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. More than half—2.6 million tons—of those emissions are located in the San Juan Basin. Two other companies, BP America and ExxonMobil, also were in the top five for biggest methane emitters in the country and in the San Juan Basin.

The oil and gas-heavy Permian Basin, located in eastern New Mexico and mostly in western Texas, fared a little better. It’s top methane polluter is Diamondback Energy, which emitted more than 400,000 tons of methane.

Speakers on the conference call praised Colorado’s laws that curb methane emissions and urged the federal government to adopt similar restrictions nationwide. Schreiber compared such regulations to seat belts in the auto industry.

“We are about 20 miles from the Colorado border,” Schreiber said. “Why are we not able to enjoy the same protection for our health that Colorado has clearly figured out?”

Read the full report below:

MethanePollution-report.pdf by New Mexico Political Report