EPA: Oil and Gas Wells Can Keep on Polluting and Wasting Methane

For Immediate Release: September 11, 2018

Contact: Camilla Feibelman, camilla.feibelman@sierraclub.org, 505.715.8388

Agency Guts Leak-Reduction Safeguards; Citizens Protest

Today, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed weakening the EPA’s Methane Rules, which have been in force for almost a year, for the oil and gas industry. When first proposed under the Obama Administration, more than 27,000 New Mexicans commented in favor of these rules meant to stop oil and gas waste and pollution.

These common-sense safeguards limit the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas infrastructure, and also protect communities from other harmful pollutants released alongside methane, such as benzene and volatile organic compounds.  Residents throughout New Mexico are directly affected by this pollution and in many cases live within sight of working wells or with wells on their property.

Wheeler’s attempt to weaken these protections and create loopholes for polluters is a blatant giveaway to well connected, Big Oil and Gas at the expense of New Mexicans’ health and well-being. Additionally, the current rules are a key aspect of our nation’s compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Upon the publishing of these rules in the Federal Register, a 60-day comment period will open and there is likely to be a public hearing in Denver.

This action by the Trump Administration is the beginning of a two-step scheme to dramatically weaken efforts to reduce methane waste and other oil and gas pollution, beginning with the Trump administration creating these massive loopholes for corporate polluters before they go on to destroy any efforts to clean up existing pollution sources. The American people shouldn’t be fooled by an effort that sounds technical — this rollback will mean a dirtier and less efficient energy system and American communities will pay the price.

Thousands of New Mexicans have commented repeatedly on this issue, first in favor of both EPA and BLM Methane Rules, then on stays of each of these rules (later ruled illegal by courts), then on the proposed gutting of these protections and now again on these new proposed rules.  But community members are acting to protect their homes, health and communities by working toward state methane safeguards similar to those already in place in Colorado, California, and Pennsylvania by gathering signatures directed at the new governor at https://methanemattersnm.org/

Methane Background

  • Methane is the primary component of natural gas. When it is leaked, flared or vented by the oil and gas industry, New Mexico loses as much as $244 million worth of natural gas per year and tens of millions more in tax and royalty revenue for our education system.
  • Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas – 86 times more potent than CO2 over 20 years.
  • New Mexico oil and gas operations leaked, vented or flared 570,000 tons of methane each year (much of it extracted from our public lands), enough to meet the annual heating and cooking needs of every home in the state.
  • When methane gas leaks or is vented, it also releases dangerous carcinogens and compounds that contribute to smog and air pollution, which lead to illnesses including cancer and asthma.
  • In the last four years, half of our nation’s methane waste on federal and tribal lands has come from New Mexico.
  • 93% of methane waste in New Mexico is avoidable.
  • 74% of Westerners support requiring oil and gas producers on public lands to use updated equipment preventing methane gas leaks.


“I want to ask Acting Administrator Wheeler, man-to-man, why he is proposing to come on to my ranch and harm my grandchildren. EPA has the studies that show how kids suffer the most from methane pollution, and the toxic chemicals that go with it. Landowners and their families all across America will suffer when the New Source Performance Standards are weakened, and I think he needs to answer each one of us. It is morally outrageous that a former Washington energy lobbyist is about to put the health of our children at risk, exactly the opposite of what EPA is supposed to do.”

Don Schreiber, vivarioarriba@gmail.com, 505-320-0032, Rancher in the Four Corners Area with 122 natural gas wells on his ranch and thousands nearby. 20 years struggling to keep kids and land healthy.

“Navajo communities are already overburdened with over 40,000 existing oil and gas wells that surround their communities in northwest New Mexico, and new industrialized fracking now threatens more than 55,000 acres slated for sacrifice this December. We already suffer from exposure to noxious odors, and an EPA rollback on the new source standards for the oil and gas industry will only make our communities unlivable.”

Carol Davis, caroljdavis.2004@gmail.com, (928) 679-5045, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, Coordinator.

“The Environmental Protection Agency attempt to weaken the EPA New Source Performance Standards for the oil and gas industry would circumvent rule-making from 2016 designed to limit harmful emissions from oil and gas infrastructure.  Among the emissions at oil and gas facilities throughout the Four Corners region are methane, benzene and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). SJCA has participated in the NSPS rule-making for many years and is particularly concerned about methane emissions in the Four Corners area and VOCs, which contribute to the formation of ozone.  The rollback of this rule represents grave public health implications and will be challenged as a flawed rulemaking process ignoring reasonable oil and gas emission controls.”

Mike Eisenfeld, mike@sanjuancitizens.org, 505.360.8994, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Energy & Climate Program Manager

“As religious leaders, it is our responsibility to care for our land, water and air and to protect the health of our communities, and especially the children. The EPA methane-waste rule addresses a large stewardship concern by preventing pollution that impacts children and the elderly and in New Mexico could capture around $250 million in royalties for our education and other needs. These rules can be viewed within the Jewish concept, Tikkun Olam, defined by acts to repair the world. People of faith believe we need to address concerns of health, life, children and our communities for healing.”

Sr. Joan Brown,osf, Exec. Director, NM Interfaith Power & Light, joankansas@swcp.com, 505.266.6966.

“Oil and gas companies come to our state, extract natural resources owned by all of us from our public lands, ship their profits off to Dallas and waste large amounts of gas, shorting the state and our communities on millions of dollars in royalties.  And while they’re at it, they spew poisonous compounds into the air, putting our families’ health at risk. Methane safeguards save money and improve air quality for families. They are an inexpensive and effective way to heal the climate, since methane traps 80 times more heat than CO2 but disappears from the atmosphere much more quickly. With all the climate destruction caused by the oil and gas industry, you would think they would jump at the chance to make this small effort to help. Instead, the industry’s commitment to disregard our children’s futures remains as strong as its influence over Trump’s EPA.”

Camilla Feibelman, camilla.feibelman@sierraclub.org, 505.715.8388, Rio Grande Chapter – Sierra Club, Director

“As a mother of a small child, I am deeply concerned about EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s efforts to weaken these commonsense, cost-effective oil and gas pollution standards. This proposal will increase pollution and hurt the communities where this development exists. It ignores the EPA’s responsibility to protect American families. New Mexico has some of the weakest oil and gas requirements in the country, and our families cannot afford to give the heaviest polluters in the oil and gas industry the green light to continue harming our children’s health. Acting Administrator Wheeler should do his job and protect our communities and our kids by keeping in place and fully implementing standards that would reduce harmful pollution from new and modified oil and gas sites.”

Celerah Hewes, chewes@momscleanairforce.org, 505-916-1247, Moms Clean Air Force, New Mexico Field Representative

“With this methane safeguard rollback, President Trump’s EPA just sacrificed public health and climate for oil and gas industry profits. And he did so despite some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies endorsing the need for methane rules. Even with EPA’s methane safeguards in place, we’re not doing enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. To do that, we must end the oil and gas era and and make a just transition to the 100% renewable economy as soon as humanly possible. But the first rule of getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Unfortunately Trump’s EPA just replaced a shovel with a backhoe.”

Lauren Pagel, lpagel@earthworksaction.org, 202-550-8960 (mobile), Earthworks, Policy Director

“New Mexicans know the oil and gas industry contributes to our economy, but in poll after poll we know that citizens of our state support the safeguards that are designed to keep us safe from the pollution associated with extraction industries. These rollbacks at the federal level clearly highlight the need for our state government to step up and ensure our citizens are safe and getting their money’s worth from NMOGA’s members. Millions of dollars are wasted that should be coming back to the state, and these rollbacks mean even more lost revenue for New Mexico.”

Lucas Herndon, lucas@progressnownm.org, 575-496-6645, ProgressNow New Mexico, Political Director.


EPA: Oil and Gas Wells Can Keep on Polluting and Wasting Methane