The U.S. Senate is poised to consider rolling back the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, an extensive update of 30-year-old federal regulations governing the flaring, venting and leaking of methane – the major component of natural gas and a key contributor to atmospheric warming.
But instead of annihilating the regulations wholesale, which the oil and gas industry would like, our senators should preserve the many positive fiscal and environmental aspects of the well-researched regulations and either revise or carve out those they deem unsalvageable. (House Republicans have already voted to repeal the rule.)
There is a lot at stake, particularly for New Mexico, which derives a huge portion of its revenues from the oil and gas industry, and can’t afford to waste a drop of income in the current budget crisis. Just as important is the fact that New Mexico is home to the highest concentration of atmospheric methane in the nation – a “hotspot” the size of Delaware situated over the San Juan Basin. It was discovered by NASA imagery in 2014.
Because methane is highly effective at absorbing the sun’s heat, it’s a key contributor to atmospheric warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As such, methane is considered a greenhouse gas, like carbon dioxide. Even though methane doesn’t linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, it is initially more devastating to the climate. In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to EPA research. Although methane comes from both natural and man-made sources, the largest source of industrial emissions is the oil and gas industry.