Earlier this spring, state regulators released an interactive map tracking methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry. Environment Secretary James Kenney said the tool would help residents understand the effects of oil and gas development on air quality.
State officials, unfortunately, did not provide much more context than that, so the announcement left the impression the current situation is dire and getting worse.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as a new report from Energy In Depth (EID) and other data makes abundantly clear.
Using government research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Information Administration, EID found methane emissions from onshore U.S. oil and natural gas production declined 24 percent between 2011 and 2017, even though natural gas production rose 19 percent during that time and oil production increased 65 percent.
EID isn’t the only one to get these results after crunching government numbers. According to a separate report, methane emissions from U.S. natural gas production fell 14 percent between 1990 and 2016.
Regionally, the news from EID also was positive. The Permian Basin in New Mexico and Texas produces almost as much natural gas as any other site in the country and is the most oil-rich place in the world. Still, according to EID, between 2011 and 2017, there was a 57 percent reduction in methane emissions per unit of oil and gas produced. Methane emissions intensity was cut in half during that period.
It is not only methane emissions that are falling. The EID report notes that overall greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are now at their lowest level since 1992.
The reason emissions, including methane, are declining so rapidly is because the industry is working to develop and bring online new technology that improves production. Companies spend billions each year to ensure they can bring energy to our homes and businesses responsibly.
The progress also is due to agreements like The Environmental Partnership, an industry-based coalition launched in 2017. The group, which includes top producers in New Mexico like Anadarko Petroleum, Apache Corporation, Chevron and Devon Energy, collaborates to reduce methane emissions and improve environmental impacts resulting from the production of oil and natural gas.
In 2018, the partnership launched three Environmental Performance Programs designed to further reduce emissions of methane using technology.
Under order of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, state regulators right now are writing new rules concerning methane emissions. The EID report is evidence that effort is unnecessary. Government overreach will only make it more costly to develop natural gas, leaving less money to drive the type of technological innovation that is responsible for emissions declines.
Tracking methane emissions is fine – as long as residents know the full story – but the governor should give private-sector solutions the chance to work before imposing layers of new rules on this industry, which supplies thousands of jobs and about $2 billion in revenue for state spending programs.