February 23, 2017

Repealing the BLM methane waste rule will hurt a growing NM industry

Laura Paskus

The methane mitigation industry has been a bright spot in an otherwise tough New Mexico economic climate. These are the companies that help develop and deploy the technologies that make our oil and gas industry more efficient and profitable. It’s not sexy, but it’s what drives a lot of the high tech economy – just the sort of start-ups and jobs that New Mexico so sorely needs.

The Governor’s support of repealing the BLM Methane Waste Rule would threaten these valuable jobs.

Oil and gas companies wasting methane isn’t just bad for the climate and our health, it’s also a huge economic inefficiency. Methane is natural gas and the more natural gas these oil and gas companies keep in their pipes and out of the air, the more product they have to sell.

Glenn Schiffbauer is the executive director of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce

This industry is a made in New Mexico success story. Too often on the bottom of economic lists, our state is in the top ten for methane mitigation businesses. But regulatory uncertainty threatens that economic progress.

Right now congressional leaders are debating a potential repeal of current policies that require oil and gas companies to capture methane and deliver it to market rather than allow it to leak, vent or be burned into the atmosphere. This policy, known as the Bureau of Land Management Methane Waste Rule, requires commonsense steps like regular leak inspections to cut the waste of our natural gas resources on federal and tribal lands.

Rolling back this rule will only exacerbate the hole in the state budget that is negatively impacting state needs like education. Unfortunately, New Mexico is number one in the nation for wasted natural gas from federal and tribal lands — $100 million worth of our resources going up in smoke every year.

And a repeal would leave the state without a backstop to clean up the infamous methane hotspot hovering over the Four Corners region and directly tied by NASA scientists to poorly operated oil and gas wells and infrastructure in the San Juan Basin.

Governor Martinez thankfully recognized this problem as one the state would address in her 2015 Energy Policy and Implementation Plan stating that her administration would “assess the economics and benefits to both the state and the industry of better capturing methane emissions.” But now, two years later, she has decided to help repeal a rule that would significantly improve this situation.

Some naysayers may have convinced the Governor that we have to choose between supporting the state’s oil and gas industry or protecting our environment. But as the methane mitigation industry shows, we don’t. What’s more,  states like Wyoming, and our neighbor Colorado, have taken proactive measures to reduce industry’s methane emissions and job growth hasn’t stagnated. In fact, it’s actually growing. And in a Senate hearing earlier this week, under strong questioning from Senator Tom Udall, the American Petroleum Institute was unable to provide Senators with a single shred of data that showed smart methane regulations had any negative impact on oil and gas jobs.

Data is what drives the high tech economy, and it has shown that reducing methane emissions is a huge opportunity for New Mexico. Oil and gas companies can both increase revenue streams and decrease their carbon footprint. And reducing methane loss from New Mexico’s public lands carries a third benefit by returning more royalty revenues to local communities.

The BLM methane waste rule is a policy that makes sense to our economy, our health and our climate. Letting it stand is the right thing for New Mexico.