Why NM Needs Its Own State Methane Rule Now More than Ever

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Lucas
 Herndon
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You may have seen the news last night or this morning that a judge has reinstated Obama-era methane rules nationwide effective immediately. While this is a great win, it’s temporary given the decision will likely be appealed and the oil and gas industry’s challenge to the original 2016 rule in the District Court of Wyoming will be revived. 

At some point, we would love to see a strong, comprehensive federal methane regulation because air and climate pollution doesn’t stop at the state line, but for New Mexicans, there’s no time to waste. 

Under guidance from Governor Lujan Grisham’s 2019 Executive Order, state agencies have been hard at work to craft a rule that would apply to oil and gas companies in New Mexico that vent, flare, or otherwise leak methane. Methane emissions aren’t just about the greater impact of climate change (methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the near-term at trapping heat), but also affect the air we breathe. Oil and gas producing counties are dangerously close to exceeding federal clean air protections for smog, and those living closest to development are more at risk of exposure to hazardous air pollutants. 

One study found that this pollution was literally a matter of life and death to marginalized communities that live near active well zones. In a recent report from Energywire, there is a documented negative effect of rates of preterm birth among women in areas with concentrations of methane like the Permian or San Juan basins. 

“The authors said their findings ‘suggest the effects of flaring on the length of gestation are independent’ of other potential health risks tied to living near oil and gas wells. They also said that to their knowledge, theirs is the first study to ‘document greater health impacts’ associated with oil and gas development to women of color, noting the study indicates Hispanic women were ‘vulnerable to the effects of flaring on preterm birth, whereas non-Hispanic white women were not.’

The first study to ‘document greater health impacts’ associated with oil and gas development to women of color

If you want to know more about why this all matters, be sure to check out our earlier article, “Methane: What New Mexicans Need to Know“.

A proposed rule is likely soon to be announced, as public comment wrapped earlier in the spring and those state agencies have been now crafting the actual policy language. Of course, course groups like New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) have their own “proposals” about what they’re already doing, supposedly, to curb emissions. They released such a proposal early last month and have spent A LOT of time trying to defend it on their social platforms and cleverly placed media spots through their lackeys like Power the Future. 

Here’s five things you should know about NMOGA’s flaring proposal:

  1. They don’t actually recommend anything that would reduce flaring. That’s right, nada, zilch to limit the millions of dollars’ worth of NM natural gas resources that the oil and gas industry is simply burning off every year. Their flaring report is really more like “a why you should let us keep flaring” report. They spend more than half of the report creating excuses for how flaring is an inescapable part of the oil and gas production process (despite the fact that leading states have been making efforts to curtail this wasteful practice) and one measly page on a handful of suggestions for how regulators could step in. And these suggestions would have zero real, measurable impacts on flaring.
  1. NMOGA’s top recommendation for how to limit a practice that wastes tens of millions of dollars in New Mexico resources every year (drumroll please): better reporting on how much they are wasting! Don’t get me wrong, this information is valuable, but reporting alone will not lead to less flaring. We need our regulatory agencies to put strong requirements with real teeth in place to end wasteful flaring. Things like enacting and enforcing requirements to end routine flaring altogether, not just asking the oil and gas industry to do a better job of telling us about how much of our gas is being flared.
  1. NMOGA’s second recommendation is to clarify that the gas capture planning requirements put in place by the Martinez administration should be required. Similar to reporting, these plans are good and filing them should be required of all operators, but that alone will not cut flaring. These plans force oil and gas operators and pipeline companies to talk to each other and they should foster the factoring in of infrastructure availability decisions into drilling plans. But in order to make a meaningful dent in NM’s flaring problem, the state needs to go a step further and make the timelines in these documents enforceable as well. Otherwise, they are just a plan that goes on a shelf somewhere (kind of like NMOGA’s flaring report). 
  1. Many don’t know this, but the state of New Mexico currently has pretty strong language on the books that would seem to prohibit flaring in most circumstances. The problem is that for decades the state has established a practice of handing out exemptions to this requirement like penny candy. This has resulted in a situation that current Oil Conservation Division Director Adrienne Sandoval correctly characterizes as “the exemptions swallowing the rule.” In this regard, NMOGA’s third recommendation (reducing the time period for those exemptions from 60 to 30 days) is completely meaningless. The state should instead enact a firm, enforceable ban on all routine flaring and end this broken exemption process altogether. 
  1. And that’s it. Three regulatory recommendations that collectively will have zero real impact on reducing the tons and tons (and millions and millions of dollars’ worth) of New Mexico’s natural gas that the oil and gas industry is flaring every year. What’s more, NMOGA recommends nothing to address methane pollution from flares. The latest science shows that these flares aren’t just a problem from a natural gas waste perspective, but that they are also a leading cause of methane pollution because the oil and gas industry isn’t operating them properly. Putting regulations on the books to ensure flares are operating as efficiently as they should be (things like a minimum 98% efficiency requirements and auto igniters to ensure they stay lit and don’t blow out) must be addressed in the state’s comprehensive methane rules expected later this year. And NMOGA’s lack of ambition on comprehensive methane regulations won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been following this issue closely. After all, modeling has shown that the methane rule recommendations they published last year would only lead to a 16% reduction in pollution, a far cry from the 60% cut attainable from nationally leading standards.

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Alissa Barnes :: Executive Director
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Alissa Barnes is Executive Director at ProgessNow New Mexico where she leads a team that works on message development, issue and voter education, and amplification of progressive messages and values. She leads the organization in strategy development, fundraising, and organizational growth and sustainability.

Alissa’s background includes nearly 12 years at Roadrunner Food Bank where Alissa led the development and creation of multiple programs that are now national models, invested in community building and collaborations, and worked closely with elected officials, educating about hunger and why policies would either benefit or hurt clients in food lines. She has a BA from the University of New Mexico and various non-profit certifications.
  • If she followed her childhood dream, she would be a Broadway tap dancing star
  • Has seen Frozen 1 and 2 over 100 times
  • Loves heavy metal concerts
Marianna Anaya :: Deputy Director
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Marianna oversees strategic messaging and creative implementation tactics for issue-based and political campaigns. She leads the team’s digital and earned media programs, bringing a New Mexico values-based approach to her work. 

Marianna’s background includes race and ethnic studies in education as a focus at UT Austin and UCLA, political campaign work, staffing former Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham as well as leading organizing and communications work for the Albuquerque Teachers Federation.

  • She currently serves as the Board President of Emerge NM. 
  • Her hobbies include getting more women, queer folks and BIPOC elected to office.
  • She has three cuddle-worthy dogs at home
Lucas Herndon :: Energy and Policy Director
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Lucas’ focus is on all things energy and environment, election integrity projects and general messaging strategy. He is often the front facing voice for PNNM when it comes to issues surrounding methane, renewable energy, oil industry accountability, and public lands issues. 

Lucas has an extensive background in public lands and solar energy. He was instrumental in the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in 2014 and has participated in every local election since 2012 through phone banking, online organizing, and poll watching. Lucas is a lifelong resident of Las Cruces where he has served in various capacities of leadership including as President of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, District Director for the Dona Ana County Democratic Party, and attending and completing the inaugural classes of the Las Cruces Neighborhood Leadership Academy and the Las Cruces Tree Stewards. 

  • Owned a tattoo shop called Omega Tattoo & Supply 
  • Once got a chin bump “what’s up” from James Harden on an airplane when Harden saw Lucas’ beard 
  • Has a minor in Medieval and Early Modern History
Josette Arvizu :: Communications Director
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Josette Arvizu is the Communications Director at ProgressNow New Mexico where she oversees the development and implementation of systems that further the external and internal communications of the organization.

Josette’s background in marketing includes copywriting, paid media, SEO and content strategy for businesses and nonprofits, including convention and visitor bureaus from Bermuda to Anaheim. She began her career teaching writing to college students while in New Mexico State University’s MFA in creative writing program. Her previous work promoting diversity and inclusion includes coordination of writing and traditional arts workshops for Native American youth at the Tucson Indian Center.
  • Is a cat mom to an obstinate orange tabby named Quasimodo and a restless grey cat named Squirrel
  • Hasn’t heard a pun she didn’t like
  • Minored in dance in college and is an avid follower of ballet on Instagram
Jackie Aguirre :: Communications Specialist
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Jackie’s focus is on graphics and social media marketing that promote progressive issues across our state. 

Jackie’s background includes work in the Reproductive Justice space focusing on Latinx, Chicanx and Mexican-American communities.

  • She is a co-owner of a community art gallery celebrating BIPOC artists
  • She is a long-time volunteer for Planned Parenthood and works with college students to provide condoms/dental dams, menstrual products & other resources
  • She is a part of a group of women who love craft beer and hosts monthly beer shares with beer from all over the country
Edgar Cruz :: Communications Specialist
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Edgar Cruz is a Communications Specialist at ProgressNow New Mexico where he focuses on video creation and research that promotes progressive issues across our state.

Edgar has a background producing multimedia initiatives. With over five years of radio production experience, he is a movement agent who believes in exploring all avenues of media to inform and engage community.

  • Is a host of Espejos de Aztlan on KUNM
  • Is a member of Generation Justice
  • First discovered his passion for organizing as a high school student after joining the Youth Alliance in 2009