Methane “facts” nothing but hot air from Guv & her Big Oil/Gas cronies

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flaring of associated gas at oil refinery

Get ready for some more hot air from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) and the Martinez administration in today’s Water and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

New Mexico is living under the most concentrated cloud of methane pollution in the country and, since methane is the primary component of the natural gas we use to heat our homes, this waste is costing New Mexicans tens of millions in tax revenue and royalties every year.

But the NMOGA is trying to argue “it’s the price we have to pay” to have a functioning oil and gas industry.

The facts tell a far different story.

Last week, NMOGA made a Chicken Little “sky is falling” attack against Sen. Tom Udall, who has been a longtime leader on ending natural gas waste on behalf of New Mexico’s taxpayers and schools. ProgressNow New Mexico and Senator Udall even held a series of statewide town hall events about this issue earlier in the year.

Stopping Methane Waste Increases Efficiency

It was a sad and desperate attempt to distract New Mexicans from the fact that the latest scientific estimates show NMOGA’s members – New Mexico’s oil and gas industry – have a dirty secret: they are wasting as much as $244 million per year in New Mexico’s natural gas resources – enough natural gas to meet the heating and cooking needs of every home in the state.

Don’t be fooled by the NMOGA lobbyists stumping for Texas and Oklahoma oil and gas companies in today’s hearing. We can do better. Here are the facts.

In fact, economists have looked at this issue and found that actually, cutting methane waste can unlock funding for a lot of bridges – and schools. Trained economists from the Conservation Economics Institute looked at this very issue in a 2016 report. They found that compliance with sensible methane waste reduction measures like the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste Rule would actually lead to a net increase in both natural gas production in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin and in revenue to the state. This means more funding available for vital state needs like education, infrastructure and health care – programs that are facing severe cutbacks in the current era of tight state budgets. As much as $27 million worth of additional tax and royalty revenue to the state and taxpayers every year according to the best estimates.

NMOGA has made bold assertions based on a 2015 study that tries to attempts to scare New Mexicans saying measures could curtail production from “marginal wells.” Here is the kicker: the word methane does not appear anywhere in the report – let alone a scientific analysis as to whether methane capture is feasible.

The Martinez Administration is Only Telling Half the Story

Unfortunately, Governor Martinez’s Energy Secretary Ken McQueen (himself a former oil and gas industry executive and NMOGA Board Member) is also fudging some important facts. Sec. McQueen was directed by a unanimous piece of legislation last session to deliver a report to the legislature on the full volume and value of wasted methane in New Mexico. But the report he presented earlier this month was woefully inadequate. It left out all information on methane leaks from what was supposed to be a complete report on this waste problem in New Mexico and it doing so, he excluded about half of the wasted methane problem.

Meanwhile, Sec. McQueen has also repeatedly attempted to blame the infamous San Juan Basin methane hotspot on natural causes or on sources outside his agency’s control and across the border in Colorado. But the science tells a different story. The top methane scientists in the country have written numerous peer-reviewed papers on the San Juan Basin’s methane problem. Among their findings are that oil and gas sources, not “geologic seeps”, are the primary culprit. And, the lion’s share of the leaks are happening on the New Mexico side of the border.

We Can Fix This — Colorado’s Statewide Methane Rules Offers a Model

Luckily we have models to use on how to dramatically cut methane waste from the oil and gas industry. In 2014 Colorado became the first state in the U.S. to directly regulate methane emissions from its oil and gas industry. And since then the state reports its leaks in the state’s most heavily developed oil and gas field have decreased by 75%. To date, the statewide rule has been well received by the oil and gas industry, and oil and gas production in the state continues to grow.

New Mexico has been living under a cloud for too long. Methane waste is a problem we can fix, to the benefit of our schools and tax revenues. But first, we have to stop the denial, roll up our sleeves and get to work.