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Environmental group IDs New Mexico methane emissions surge

SANTA FE, N.M. — A prominent environmental group announced new evidence Thursday that methane emissions in New Mexico are climbing amid a surge in oil and natural gas production in the Permian Basin drilling zone that straddles the state boundary with Texas.

The analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that statewide emissions at oil and natural gas production sites of the potent heat-trapping gas linked to global warming are five times higher than what is reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA tracks emissions by large petroleum producers.

Defense Fund scientist David Lyon said the analysis incorporates methane sensor measurements from about 90 locations in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas in mid-2018. That monitoring was done by a research team from the University of Wyoming.

“The Permian Basin has become the pre-eminent, most active drilling basin of anywhere in the country,” said Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund. “We wondered, ‘What is that doing to statewide methane emissions?’ “

The new analysis estimates annual methane emissions of just over a million metric tons (1.1 million U.S. tons) linked to oil and natural gas facilities including well pads, compression stations and pipelines — with the majority of emissions emanating from southeastern New Mexico.

A prior study by the Environmental Defense Fund based on 2015 data documented emission of about 570,000 annual metric tons across New Mexico.

Industry officials said that producers are already taking steps to capture more of the methane because of economic incentives, while Goldstein says that drillers who target oil do not always stand to profit when natural gas emerges.

Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the analysis was conducted to advance an agenda seeking stricter state regulatory requirements on drillers and should not be trusted.

New Mexico is in the early stages of developing new rules to reduce losses in the production process of natural gas, which consists primarily of methane, at the direction of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“These studies are designed to do one thing, to show increased emissions despite what the EPA says,” McEntyre said.

The Environmental Defense Fund estimated that the release, leakage or burning of excess natural gas by the energy industry wastes $275 million of the commodity a year at current market prices, with more than $40 million in forgone taxes that would have been collected from the industry.

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