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NM at bottom in controlling methane emissions, study says

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico is dead last in local government efforts to control methane emissions from oil and gas operations, according to a new study comparing regulatory efforts in high-production states.

The study, released Tuesday, compared emissions and local regulations in the eight states that produce the most oil and gas on federally leased lands to determine how much state-level regulations can offset federal efforts to scale back national control over emissions.

The study, disputed by industry, follows the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s rollback in September of an Obama-era rule that imposed strict regulations on venting, flaring and leaking of methane from operations on public lands nationwide, generally leaving it to the states to pick up the regulatory slack.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now also rewriting an Obama-era rule to relax EPA controls over industry operations on all lands nationwide.

The new study by The Wilderness Society and Taxpayers for Common Sense found New Mexico regulations lag far behind other states. New Mexico has zero requirements that meet or exceed any in the previous BLM rule, leaving significant sources of methane waste unregulated.

Overall, New Mexico regulations match only about 22 percent of the controls contained in the former BLM rule, according to the report. In contrast, Colorado matches 74 percent and California 67 percent.

That’s not just a state issue, but a national problem, because New Mexico has the most federally leased land and the highest methane emissions from those lands in the country, said Taxpayers for Common Sense President Ryan Alexander.

“That contributes a lot to national level emissions,” Alexander said. “What we do here affects everybody.”

The report said $322.5 million in natural gas has been vented, flared or leaked on federal lands in New Mexico over the past decade, or more than all the natural gas consumed by the state’s residential sector in the last 2½ years. If operations on all lands are included, New Mexico could be wasting up to $240 million in natural gas annually, costing the state about $27 million in tax and royalty revenue, according to the report.

Industry disputes that data.

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre said methane leakage declined by 46 percent in New Mexico’s side of the San Juan Basin and 6 percent in the Permian Basin from 2011-2016.

“Emissions continue to fall through industry innovation to control it,” McEntyre said. “These groups don’t acknowledge what industry is doing on the ground to capture more methane.”

The study sponsors want newly elected Democratic officials to enforce more controls.

“We’re hoping a serious discussion will take place starting in January,” said Peter Daigle of The Wilderness Society. “This study can contribute to those efforts by pointing out gaps that need to be filled.”

Both governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham and incoming State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard called for state-level restrictions on methane emissions in their election campaigns this year. Victor Reyes, a member of the governor-elect’s transition team, said Lujan Grisham remains committed to that goal.

“To do this, she’ll bring businesses, industry, and conservation leaders to the table to implement a statewide rule to curb methane waste and pollution in a balanced and effective way,” Reyes told the Journal in an email. “New Mexico will capitalize on this opportunity to create jobs through leak detection and remediation technologies and generate additional revenue for public schools, while protecting public health through cleaner energy production.”

Garcia Richard has not responded since the election to repeated Journal inquiries by phone and email to discuss her position.

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