Published: 12:01 am, Sun. May. 29th, 2016Updated: 12:32 am
The oil and gas industry is crying wolf on common-sense, job-intensive, revenue-earning, royalty-generating, health-improving methane rules that are coming from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management.
Let’s start with the basics. Methane is natural gas, and it leaks silently and invisibly out of both oil and gas operations. It is also intentionally vented and flared into our air when it could be captured and then used or sold. Methane is 86 times more potent as a global-warming gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, so it’s incredibly damaging to the climate and may make oil and gas even more carbon-intensive than coal.
Volatile organic compounds, like benzene, leak out of these operations along with the methane, and combine with other compounds and sunlight to form ozone (or smog, as it is more commonly known). Smog exacerbates asthma and causes respiratory disease.
San Juan and Eddy counties have “F” grades for ozone, according to the American Lung Association’s recent State of the Air Report. In low-population counties, smog is often attributed to oil and gas operations. But the methane and smog problems caused by industry actually have fairly simple solutions.
Twelve New Mexico companies design, manufacture and install the technology to capture leaking methane at little to no cost. In fact, some companies will pay for installation upfront and recoup their costs by sharing profits from the methane capture achieved.
Jason Espinoza of the Association for Commerce and Industry claims that the Sierra Club is overstating the benefits of methane capture. But there’s no need to take our word for it.
Look at Colorado, where comprehensive state rules were implemented two years ago. The Center for Methane Emission Solutions, a trade group of methane-mitigation companies, carried out an anonymous poll there that found that the rules were easy, cheap and saved industry money, not to mention the benefits of additional royalties that come to the state.
Espinoza also quotes old information that makes it look like methane pollution has dropped over the last couple of years, when in fact only last month the EPA found it had underestimated methane pollution by 34 percent nationwide. The EPA did set up a voluntary program for controlling methane, but only 41 companies nationwide signed up, and none of them were producers.
The idea that methane rules should be applied only to new, high-producing wells doesn’t hold up to the science. First, methane is invisible and odorless, making it hard to tell when and where it’s leaking without doing proper inspections with infrared cameras. Also a major study of oil- and gas-producing basins throughout the country have shown that is nearly impossible to predict where and when leaks will happen. So it is essential that methane rules apply to all facilities and that inspections be regular.
Finally, Espinoza says we can be thankful that production of oil and gas has kept up in New Mexico, even as prices have gone down, ignoring the reality that U.S. oil and gas producers have created the very glut in the market that is keeping prices down. Thousands of people have been laid off thanks to the industry actively ignoring supply-and-demand economics.
Let’s put folks back to work retrofitting oil and gas facilities to capture a natural resource that actually makes money for industry and the state, while protecting the climate and health.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The preceding op-ed was submitted in response to an op-ed by Jason Espinoza, New Mexico Association of Commerce president, published in the Sunday, May 22, edition of the Daily Press. Camilla Feibelman is the director of the Sierra Club: Rio Grande Chapter.)