Industry must focus on methane reforms

The oil and gas industry is up to its old tricks again, trying to deceive us that it’s going to clean up rampant methane pollution and waste from oil and gas production. But before I shed light on the oil and gas disinformation machine, let’s keep our eye on the ball: New Mexico can and should be a national leader that puts people over polluters by keeping methane and other air pollutants out of New Mexico’s beautiful skies.

Now, back to that pesky oil and gas disinformation machine. It boils down to three steps. First, deny the problem. If that doesn’t work, move on to the second step – hide the true size of the problem. And, third, if all else fails, throw out some milquetoast ideas to weaken attempts to solve the problem.

In my 20-year career protecting the Western U.S., including 16 years here in New Mexico, I’ve seen this well-oiled machine in operation time and again.

To see how it works with methane, let’s start with two statistics the oil and gas industry in New Mexico doesn’t want you to know. Methane waste costs New Mexico taxpayers $43 million in lost royalties every single year. These lost royalties reflect a more pernicious problem – climate pollution from oil and gas production is, according to the EPA GHG Equivalencies Calculator, equal to the total emissions of just under 18.5 million passenger vehicles. That’s crazy! And it’s precisely why the industry fired up the disinformation machine.

It began way back in 2015, when NASA discovered a methane cloud the size of Delaware looming over the Four Corners’ 40,000 oil and gas wells. Industry propagandists, with no shame, denied the problem, asserting “naturally occurring gas seeps” related to coal deposits are the cause.

This claim was proven flat wrong in 2017 via peer-reviewed science concluding that natural seeps “are a small fraction” of the total pollution causing the now-infamous “Four Corners methane hot spot.” The real culprit? Oil and gas development.

Next, industry sought to hide the true scale of the problem. For this, it claimed the “methane emissions intensity” of oil and gas production had declined. This bogus metric was invented to hide the fact total emissions are still sky-high.

Now, let’s speak some truth. In New Mexico, methane emissions are rising. Data reported by the oil and gas industry to New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division show methane venting surged 56% in 2018 while flaring exploded by 117%. Indeed, total emissions have climbed steadily since 2015.

Fortunately, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ignored the disinformation machine, and put the science and data first, calling on state agencies to take action. Unfortunately, industry still has one more move in its disinformation playbook: throw out milquetoast ideas. For this, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association just released its very official-sounding “methane mitigation roadmap.” Make no mistake: NMOGA’s proposed policies, if adopted, would be the weakest protections in the nation – far weaker even than Wyoming’s.

While there’s merit to some elements of the roadmap, the deception comes from what’s left out. These include needed prohibitions against routine venting and flaring from new oil and gas infrastructure; action to swiftly phase out flaring from existing infrastructure; and strong, nation-leading programs to find and fix leaks, which are all too common from aging equipment.

These are common-sense approaches. The era of climate crisis recovery is dawning and industry can’t continue to run roughshod over New Mexico, fracking and drilling with minimal climate safeguards. So; ignore the industry disinformation machine and keep your eye on the ball: The time for action that puts people over polluters is now.

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