Photo of methane flare in San Juan County courtesy of San Juan Citizens Alliance

For immediate release: Saturday, December 2, 2023
**National press briefing from methane advocates, including from New Mexico, will take place on Monday, December 4, at 11am MT.  Further details to come.

After close to 10 years of work by environmental and frontline communities in New Mexico and around the country, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham joins Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan at the UN Climate Summit (livestream 1 a.m. MT) 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.

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, has driven about one quarter of the warming our planet has experienced to date. The climate-heating gas first became a widely known issue in New Mexico in 2014 when NASA satellite images showed the methane hotspot over the Four Corners area.

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 rules the EPA is releasing. 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, the U.S. oil and gas sector emits 16 million metric tons of methane into our atmosphere. Each year, oil and gas operations in New Mexico alone 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 and they are the largest operator in the San Juan Basin. Meanwhile on the other side of the state, New Mexico is now extracting the second-most oil in the country, the impact of pollution in the Permian Basin is especially clear.

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 those we’ve seen in New Mexico including 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 (VOCs) and carcinogenic air toxins like benzene and formaldehyde. These operations are situated in communities who are already dealing with disproportionate environmental justice, public health, and socioeconomic burdens.

According to a recent study, oil and gas production is responsible for billions of dollars in health damages annually, including early deaths, childhood asthma, and asthma exacerbations. This is in addition to increased rates of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer, and other adverse health impacts among those living closest to development. In New Mexico, 144,377 New Mexicans, including 38,749 children, reside near or attend schools or daycares within a ½-mile radius of active oil and gas operations.

According to EPA’s analysis, the final standards have the potential to avoid 58 million tons of methane through 2038, as well as 16 million tons of volatile organic compounds and 590,000 tons of air toxins. These reductions will be achieved through requirements such as strengthened leak detection and repair requirements for all wells, regardless of size or operation status; the installation of non-polluting pneumatic equipment; a phased-in prohibition on routine flaring of gas at new wells; and a community monitoring program to target particularly large emission events also known as super-emitters.

This rule is a critical step to cut methane pollution from oil & gas production. Reducing methane emissions is not only good for the air we breathe and the climate, it also would create hundreds of thousands of new, good-paying jobs in manufacturing and service companies. According to a study by the BlueGreen Alliance on economic impacts, the leak detection and repair provisions alone will create 136,000 permanent jobs nationwide.

Community organizations react to the news:

“I am the mother of two young children, one of whom developed asthma while living in Southern New Mexico’s poor air quality. Her symptoms drastically improve when we leave the area because we are downwind from the Permian Basin. Kids like my daughter will need these rules to be energetically enforced. Regular leak detection and repair, and managing super-emitters will be crucial to keeping our communities safe. All of the recent fly over projects I have seen show that emissions are vastly underreported, especially on the Texas side of the Permian. Aerial surveys have shown that in NM there are vast methane clouds above both the San Juan and Permian basins. As air pollution knows no boundaries, it is the job of the EPA to create meaningful federal rules that set a minimum standard for new and existing oil and gas operations — the best tool we have to protect communities from harmful pollutants. These rules are necessary to protect public health and the environment in New Mexico. It is critical that a final, strong rule be implemented as soon as possible to ensure that our communities’ air gets cleaned up for healthier, fuller lives.” — Antoinette Reyes, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, NM and West TX organizer

“New Mexico passed nation-leading rules in 2021 and 2022 to significantly reduce ozone precursors and methane emissions from oil and gas operations in the state. We applaud the Biden administration and the EPA for strengthening federal air pollution rules that will protect the health of frontline communities, who are also impacted by the fossil-fuel induced climate crisis. Federal methane rules are a quick way to reduce climate pollution. They will also help address a situation like that in the Permian Basin, where Texas’ oil and gas operations emit double the pollution of those on the New Mexico side. But rules are only as good as their enforcement. We hope the EPA puts into place strong enforcement capacity for the methane rules and then moves quickly to address other sources of pollution from the oil and gas sector.” — Demis Foster, Conservation Voters New Mexico Executive Director

“New Mexico has taken bold steps to protect local communities from the extreme damage caused by methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, and we applaud the efforts of national leaders to ensure all communities across the country are similarly protected. Addressing the low-hanging fruit that the extreme waste and harm of venting and flaring specifically causes is a great first step and we will continue to push for greater and greater controls over the fossil fuel industry.” — Lucas Herndon, Energy Policy Director, ProgressNow New Mexico

“The National Parks Conservation Association applauds the Environmental Protection Agency’s increased protections against the methane pollution that’s harming our national parks. From melting glaciers in Glacier National Park to hazy overlooks in Acadia National Park, the consequences of pollution know no bounds. After years of advocacy alongside partners protecting public health and visitors’ experience within parks, it is heartening to see EPA has heard our call and taken action to protect the air we breathe and reduce methane pollution to prevent climate change from worsening.” — Natalie Levine, Interim Campaigns Director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Clean Air Program

“We have known for well over a decade that reducing methane pollution from oil and gas production is one of the quickest and best ways to mitigate the climate crisis. It is gratifying that the Biden administration has embraced a leadership role in promulgating these sensible and critically important rules. Much work remains to be done to address the harms caused by fossil fuels, but such leadership provides further hope that we are indeed opening new doors to a thriving, climate resilient future.” — Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Executive Director, Western Environmental Law Center

“We are proud that New Mexico has led the way on oil and gas methane and smog reductions, really helping to set a strong floor for the national standards we’re seeing today. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Lujan Grisham and the countless community members who have fought so hard for this, New Mexicans, especially those in the Permian along the border with Texas, can be assured of healthier air. Today’s announcement is good for the climate and good for our health.”  — Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Director

Further Information:

  • The Oil Conservation Division at the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department crafted methane rules that went into effect in May 2021 and ban routine venting and flaring.

  • The New Mexico Environment Department’s “ozone precursor” rules went into effect in summer 2022. These require oil and gas operators to inspect all wells for leaks on a frequent basis without exemptions and require more frequent inspections to find and fix leaks in proximity to homes and schools. The Independent Petroleum Association of NM has sued over these safeguards on issues where they failed to provide any witnesses or testimony during the rulemaking proceeding at the Environmental Improvement Board.

  • Proposed BLM methane safeguards are expected to be released soon as well.

  • The American Lung Association’s 2023 State of the Air Report found that Eddy County ranked as No. 19 among the most polluted counties in the U.S. for ozone, one of only two only rural counties among the top 25 in the US for ozone pollution. Eddy County has seen an increase in high smog days in each of the past five reports and earned an “F” grade.” in the report. (Earthworks Video Footage of Methane release)

  • New Mexico Threat Map fact sheet

  • NM Threat Map data spreadsheet

Contact: Antoinette Reyes, 575.342.1727, antoinette.reyes@sierraclub.org

Photo of methane flare in San Juan County courtesy San Juan Citizens Alliance. 

EPA Finalizes methane safeguards to slash oil and gas pollution