Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
More than 50 of New Mexico’s city, county, state and tribal elected officials sent a letter this week to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in support of continued development of methane regulations for the oil and gas sector.
Methane, a main ingredient in natural gas, contributes to global rises in temperature, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In the letter, officials say the “COVID-19 crisis is highlighting the systemic inequities in our public health system and the need for New Mexico to step up clean air protections for its most vulnerable.”
Daniel Tso, chairman of the Navajo Nation Council’s Health, Education and Human Services Committee, said regulations should protect communities.
“The Navajo Nation has higher cases of asthma among the children,” Tso, who represents the far eastern portions of the reservation, told the Journal. “We already have high cases of heart disease, diabetes and COPD. The methane plumes that emit through the area just exacerbate the health conditions of the people, and then here comes the pandemic.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people with conditions like those cited by Tso may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
The New Mexico Environment Department and the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department are developing methane regulations as mandated by the governor’s January 2019 executive order on climate change.
EMNRD spokeswoman Susan Torres said in an email that the agency is “on track” to present a rule to the Oil Conservation Commission by the end of the year.
Liz Bisbey-Kuehn, Air Quality Bureau chief for NMED, said in an email that the Environment Department intends to release its draft rule for public comment this summer, and could have a hearing on the rule before the Environmental Improvement Board this winter.
New rules could require companies to reduce venting and flaring or replace equipment.
“Industry should use the appropriate technologies to capture the methane to be used in a useful way,” Tso said. “Once it’s released into the air … that’s lost dollars that can never be recaptured.”
Officials said regulations could boost New Mexico’s post-pandemic economy by creating “methane mitigation” jobs and reducing waste.
“The next generation of New Mexicans cannot afford to lose any education revenue with needless waste, especially when oil and gas companies have the technology to capture more emissions,” the letter reads.
Methane makes up 31% of New Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions. More than 60% of the state’s methane comes from the oil and gas industry, according to a November 2019 report from the state’s Climate Change Task Force.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.