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BLM’s rule on methane waste should be retained

You might not have known this, but New Mexico’s taxpayers have consistently been robbed of millions of dollars a year in oil and gas revenue by a wasteful system that allowed companies to vent or flare publicly owned resources into the atmosphere instead of capturing them or simply because of leaks from equipment and infrastructure.

This practice meant that natural gas royalties, which could have funded schools in New Mexico, went into thin air.

Well, not actually into thin air. You see, after years of this reckless practice on our public lands, it was discovered that all of this venting and flaring led to a Delaware-sized methane cloud hovering over the Four Corners that was first observed by NASA just a few years ago.

When NASA took a look at what was causing those emissions last year, they identified nearly 250 sites – the vast majority of which were oil and gas wells, pipelines and storage facilities.

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Unfettered venting and flaring is precisely why the Bureau of Land Management initiated a rule to ensure taxpayers were adequately compensated for venting and flaring of resources drilled on public lands. This plan to capture and use flared resources not only aims to make the most out of our publicly-owned oil and gas, it also helps cut down ozone pollution that can trigger asthma attacks and worsen emphysema.

In fact, these BLM protections have created opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop and apply new technologies that make extraction cleaner, safer and more economical. According to a 2014 report, the emerging methane mitigation sector now boasts jobs in more than 500 locations across 46 different states, with the median hourly wage 20 percent higher than the national average.

While there are few budding methane mitigation companies in New Mexico, we have only just begun to tap the potential of this budding industry.

That’s a win-win for everyone.

Unfortunately for New Mexico taxpayers, powerful industry lobbyists and the new leadership in Washington have initiated the Congressional Review Act that would open the door to more reckless venting and flaring of our public resources by permanently undoing the BLM’s natural gas waste rule.

This would be a huge step backward for responsible development and energy security.

While other countries are investing in infrastructure for renewable energy production, Washington lobbyists are looking to turn back the clock by making energy extraction more wasteful, and turning their backs on taxpayers who rely on oil and gas royalties to build schools, pay for police and maintain roads and highways. New Mexico’s taxpayers have widely supported the BLM methane rules because we recognize that wasting our natural resources steals from our state’s future.

Luckily, the majority of our state’s congressional delegation have chosen the side of New Mexican families on this issue. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham have all been strong supporters of the BLM’s natural gas waste rule. They all understand the ramifications of this Congressional Review Act.

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As a businessperson, I am proud to step up and stand with taxpayers in support of preserving the BLM Natural Gas Waste Rule. And I’m not alone. A recent bipartisan poll by Colorado College found that 80 percent of Westerners support action to cut natural gas waste on public lands.

The BLM rule is critically important to protecting taxpayers and to assuring the public that the oil and gas industry will not fall back into old, wasteful habits. I applaud the companies that are successfully adopting programs to reduce waste, and the states that have adopted programs to control air pollution from the oil and gas industry.

I also support New Mexico’s members of Congress who continue to support the BLM methane rules and recognize they are important taxpayer protections that will help spur progress and innovation in our state.

Gabriel Romero is a county commissioner in Taos’ Third District and the owner of Romero/Taos Publishing Company.

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