A proposed rule from the U.S. Department of the Interior to reduce the venting, leaking and flaring of methane and other natural gases from oil and gas drilling operations on public lands has strong support among New Mexico leaders
In a news call on Thursday, local leaders and residents of northern New Mexico voiced their support for the new rule, which was developed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management.
Kent Salazar, a lifelong resident of New Mexico and the western vice chair of the National Wildlife Foundation Board who participated in the call, said that limiting the venting of natural gases was a matter of sustainability.
“Oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands are now wasting more than $330 million worth of natural gas nationwide,” Salazar said. “And in New Mexico, that’s $100 million a year, each year, through the wasteful practice of venting, flaring and leaking. In fact, New Mexico is No. 1 in the country for the amount of natural gas being lost.”
The BLM’s current rule regarding venting and flaring of methane and other gases was adopted more than 30 years ago. A 2010 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, cited by the Department of the Interior, found that almost 40 percent of natural gas vented, flared and leaked through oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands could be “economically captured with currently available technologies.”
With domestic oil production at its highest level in almost 30 years, venting and leaking of natural gases continues to be an environmental concern. The Interior Department reports that methane emissions, which are 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, play a significant role in climate change.
Joe Maestas, the former mayor of Española and current Santa Fe city councilor, said he was pleased with the BLM’s outreach over the past several years to modernize its regulations through extensive public outreach. He cited a January 2016 poll by Colorado College that found 73 percent of New Mexico residents supported the BLM’s proposed rule.
“I’m even more proud to, today, join more than 40 current and former elected officials from San Juan County and beyond in submitting a letter to the Bureau of Land Management director, Mr. Neil Kornze, voicing our strong support for the draft natural gas rule,” Maestas said on the call.
Under the proposed rule, oil and gas producers would be required to use available technologies and equipment to limit natural gas leakage. The rule also clarifies when oil and gas operators owe royalties from methane and gas emissions. Royalty income from leakage could then be used to support local infrastructure and other needs on the local level.
For Don Schreiber, a Rio Arriba County rancher, the proposed rule change would help alleviate some of the more unpleasant aspects of living near natural gas wells. Schreiber said that there are 120 wells on and surrounding his property, and that venting often leads to an eruption of methane that can roar for hours.
“For all of us living day to day with the impact of oil and gas, our voices are usually drowned out by industry,” Schreiber said.
In Colorado, regulations reducing methane and natural gas emissions from industrial drilling were passed several years ago. “Two years ago, Colorado passed some of the most robust emissions requirements across the country for oil and gas operations, including the nation’s first methane regulations,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement regarding the BLM’s proposed rule. “We’re pleased to see that elements of the BLM’s proposed regulations on flaring, venting and leak prevention are modeled from Colorado’s rules, and will minimize the waste of natural gas while reducing harmful emissions.”
The BLM’s proposed methane rule was first announced Jan. 22 by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. The press call was held in advance of a public listening session on the proposed rule, scheduled for Tuesday in Farmington.
[email protected] Edward Graham is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.