By Antoinette Reyes, Chapter Permian and Southern NM organizer
After 10 years of work by environmental and frontline communities in New Mexico and around the country, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham joined EPA Administrator Michael Regan at the UN Climate Summit to announce EPA safeguards to slash methane and other harmful pollution from the oil and gas industry, a major win for climate and public health.
Thousands of New Mexicans have spoken out in favor of strong methane and ozone rules in the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations. Additionally, Gov. Lujan Grisham’s administration has passed nation-leading methane and ozone safeguards that have provided a strong model for the EPA rules. And importantly for families in New Mexico’s Permian Basin, federal protections will apply to extraction in Texas, where methane emissions are nearly unregulated.
Each year, oil and gas operations in New Mexico release enough methane into the atmosphere to heat every home in the state. The nation’s largest methane emitter, Hilcorp, has 60% of its facilities in New Mexico. Hilcorp is the largest operator in the San Juan Basin.
The final EPA standards will strengthen leak detection and repair requirements for all wells, regardless of size or operation status; require installation of non-polluting pneumatic equipment; impose a phased-in prohibition on routine flaring of gas at new wells; and initiate a community monitoring program to target particularly large emission events also known as super-emitters.
Reducing methane pollution from the oil and gas industry is the fastest, most cost-effective way to slow the rate of climate change and avoid the further escalation of unpredictable, severe, and catastrophic weather events like the wildfires and subsequent floods that ravaged the northern part of the state and the heat dome we experienced this summer.
Additionally, oil and gas methane is emitted alongside other health-damaging pollutants, such as smog- and soot-forming volatile organic compounds and carcinogenic toxins like benzene and formaldehyde. These operations are in communities already dealing with disproportionate public health and socioeconomic burdens.
Studies show that oil and gas production is responsible for billions of dollars in health damages annually, including early deaths, asthma, increased rates of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer, and other adverse health impacts among those living closest to development.
Reducing emissions is good for the air we breathe and the climate, and it will create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs. According to a BlueGreen Alliance study, the leak detection and repair provisions alone will create 136,000 permanent jobs nationwide.