Dozens of New Mexicans issued warnings about the current and future impacts of climate change this week as they urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt a new rule that would lead to significant methane emission reductions from the oil and gas sector.
The comments happened as part of three days of public comment sessions as the EPA works on a new rule to address methane emissions from oil and gas. While the EPA hosted meetings to collect public comments, people can also submit comments online through June 30 at regulations.gov.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and emissions from oil and gas extraction have been linked to various health conditions ranging from asthma to cancer.
Many of the commenters asked for a reduction in methane emissions by at least 65 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.
Albuquerque-resident David Robertson, who identified himself as a retired engineer and a member of the climate advocacy group New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said the target can be met with existing technology at an affordable price.
And these emissions reductions must be achieved quickly to combat climate change and protect the health of people who live near the oil and gas production sites, many of the New Mexico commenters said.
Ruth Striegel, the advocacy chairperson for New Mexico Interfaith Power and Life, said the cost of human lives and climate change is much greater than the cost of capturing methane from equipment rather than letting it leak or practicing routine venting and flaring.
“Human life is totally dependent on the health of our planet,” she said. “We are part of a vastly complex web of interdependence among the animate and inanimate, oceans, lands and climate systems. Within my lifetime, we have come crashing in with only minimal understanding, taking resources and lives with impunity and creating havoc in our planetary systems.”
Shiprock resident Duane “Chili” Yazzie urged the EPA to enact the strongest methane regulations possible to protect the planet for future generations.
“The energy developers have the direct blame and responsibility for destabilizing the life of the earth and the politicians and bureaucrats who allowed this are complicit,” he said. “And it’s all for the economics of it. Should dollars and the economy overshadow the life of all living things and the planet?”
People have a moral imperative to address this pollution, according to Sister Joan Brown, the director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light.
“The real climate crisis is a soul crisis,” she said, describing humans’ holy task as caring for neighbors and creation and to live life in balance for current and future generations.
Brown also talked about air pollution, especially in areas with minority populations.
“So many environmental and economic injustices plague our state and yet financially we are one of the poorest states in the nation,” she said.
Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, highlighted climate change impacts in New Mexico, including a heat wave that was impacting the state as he provided comment.
“The cumulative stress that heat, drought and fire place on my home region is immense and that cumulative stress is, of course, a consequence of the climate emergency,” he said.
He urged the EPA to prohibit routine venting and flaring and to require frequent inspections. He also urged the EPA to center disproportionately-impacted communities, such as low-income and minority communities, in the discussions regarding methane regulations.
Additionally, state Senator Carrie Hamblen said methane reduction strategies could create jobs for New Mexicans.
“With frequent leak detection and repair, we can lead in an industry that is not only designed to repair or to pause the damage that is being done by methane gas but ultimately provide many of our New Mexicans a safe, healthy and wonderful place to live without fear for their health and environment,” she said.
Industry groups tout emission reductions
While many of the people who spoke emphasized the importance of reducing emissions, industry groups say producers are already taking steps to capture more methane and reduce leaks.
Tripp Parks, vice president of government affairs for the industry group Western Energy Alliance, argued that if the methane rule is too stringent it could do more harm than good by causing industries to pull out from the United States and move the extraction to areas that do not have strong measures to reduce emissions.
Western Energy Alliance represents natural gas producers in the Rocky Mountains.
“American oil and natural gas provides an overwhelming benefit to humanity as the foundation of human health, safety and welfare,” he said, adding that people with access to fossil fuel energy have higher standards of living.
Additionally, he said the industry has reduced emissions while also increasing production.
Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, highlighted steps that the industry has taken to reduce emissions and said that the new rule should encourage technological innovation and provide flexibility for adopting new technologies.
“API and its members recognize the importance of developing oil and gas resources responsibly and we are committed to delivering solutions that reduce the risk of climate change while meeting society’s growing energy needs,” he said.