It’s been eight years since NASA’s announcement that they identified a methane hotspot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin, and a new study by researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory fingerprints some of the sources. This study was published in the journal Geophysical Research: Atmosphere in September and, according to the lab, the research will help identify sources of methane emissions so that measures can be taken to reduce the pollution. Scientists compared the level of ethane to methane in emissions to determine if they came from coal or natural gas and oil. The researchers used measurements taken from 2013 through 2021. While natural gas primarily consists of methane, it also contains other hydrocarbons, including ethane.
Since 2014, politicians from San Juan County have repeatedly attempted to characterize the methane hotspot as a result of naturally-occurring emissions.
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency develops policies for methane emissions from oil and gas production, environmental advocacy groups have a new tool to back their calls for regular leak detection and repair at all sites, including those that produce limited amounts of oil and gas. Scientists with the Environmental Defense Fund published a study this week in Nature Communications that found while small-producing well sites may, individually, have relatively low emissions, when looked at as a whole, they account for a disproportionate share of methane emissions.
While scientists from an environmental advocacy group that has actively been lobbying for stricter regulations for low-production facilities conducted the study, it was published in a peer-reviewed paper. That means other scientists evaluated the methodology used and looked for potential errors. During a press conference on Wednesday, the lead author Mark Omara explained the researchers’ methodology, which relied heavily on previously published peer-reviewed studies. Omara said the researchers defined a low-producing well site as one that produced less than 15 barrels of oil equivalent.
In New Mexico, new state rules sparked a dramatic increase in reported incidents of vented and flared natural gas in 2021 — and reveal that the oil and gas industry has been losing vastly more of the climate-change-driving fossil fuel than previously reported. “The state’s updated reporting requirements were long overdue,” says Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund. The new numbers are in line with previous EDF research showing huge amounts of vented and flared natural gas in recent years. A review of year-end data from the state’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD) shows that producers vented or flared enough natural gas to power nearly 39,000 homes for a year — roughly the number of households in Las Cruces, the state’s second-largest city. This story originally appeared at Capital & Main and is reprinted with permission.
Kendra Pinto, a resident of Navajo Nation, was using an infrared camera to check for emissions earlier this year when she discovered methane leaking from under the ground due to a leak at a well site. Pinto said she reported the leak and, to her knowledge, the well site was shut in and excavated to inspect for the leak. She said such instances are not uncommon at oil and gas sites near her home in northwest New Mexico. Activists like Pinto, who works as a Four Corners Indigenous community field advocate for Earthworks, hope new federal methane regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and will also cut down on the air pollution impacting nearby communities’ health. “Emissions happen on leased land, but the air does not conform to those square boxes,” she said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham highlighted her administration’s steps to combat climate change by reducing emissions while talking about climate change at an international conference on Monday. Her remarks came during a Cut Methane sub-national spotlight as well as when she joined the White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy, U.N. Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg and others during the America Is All In discussion at the U.S. Climate Action Center as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland. Cut Methane is a group of 30 organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, who are in Glasgow for the climate conference. Meanwhile, America Is All In is a coalition of U.S. leaders who support climate action. During the Cut Methane interview, Lujan Grisham said climate change is an existential crisis.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 229 to 191 on Friday to reinstate methane regulations implemented under President Barack Obama’s administration and rolled back by former President Donald Trump. The House’s vote comes after the U.S. Senate voted in late April in favor of the measure, which is intended to reduce the methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. A dozen House Republicans broke party lines and voted with the Democrats in favor of the resolution. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations
Of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican, was the only one to vote against restoring the methane rules. Environmental advocates praise the vote
Members of the environmental advocacy community in New Mexico praised the vote.
Carol Davis, the director of the environmental advocacy group Diné CARE, recalled spending a few days camping near Counselor, New Mexico with other members of the advocacy group a few years ago and feeling sick from the emissions related to oil and gas production. “For me, being in a region where there’s just that air pollution, I seriously was getting headaches, feeling nauseous, and it’s just amazing that people have lived there for so long in an area where they’re exposed to that kind of pollution,” she said, adding that she had a panic attack that night. After researching the health impacts of emissions like methane, she said she realized the symptoms were not unusual. A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund found that 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas, consisting primarily of methane, is released into the atmosphere each year from oil and gas operations on Navajo Nation lands. EDF argues this wastes a valuable commodity leading to the loss of $1.2 million of royalties and taxes to the tribe annually.
Following concerns from members of the environmental community, the New Mexico Environment Department removed the exemptions from the oil and gas sector ozone precursor rule for stripper and marginal wells. The department released the ozone precursor rule Thursday and filed a petition with the Environmental Improvement Board to review it. A public hearing is anticipated this fall. If approved by the seven-member board, the rules would likely go into effect in early 2022. It is intended to work in conjunction with a methane waste rule that the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department already finalized.
The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to restore methane regulations that were instituted under President Barack Obama and rolled back under President Donald Trump. The Senate used the Congressional Review Act to push for the repeal of Trump’s rollbacks of the Environmental Protection Agency methane reduction rule. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the authority to undo agency actions that were taken within the last months of the previous administration. The House of Representatives, which has a Democratic majority, is expected to vote on the measure next month. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, was one of the leaders of the effort and a companion resolution along with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
President Joe Biden wasted no time in starting to tackle some of the country’s most pressing climate change issues after being inaugurated on Jan. 20. One of Biden’s first acts as president was to rejoin the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, a 2015 non-binding pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions necessary to keep the planet’s warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.
Nearly every country in the world has made the pledge to act on climate change, but Former President Donald Trump announced plans to remove the U.S. from the accord in 2017. The country was not officially able to exit the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.