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Photo of PNM's San Juan Coal Fired Generator Plant for the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter website

By Denise Fort, Research Professor, UNM School of Law
Chapter Energy Committee chair

New Mexicans are well aware that we have the dubious honor of contributing to an enormous methane hot spot that hovers over the Four Corners Area. Methane is a pernicious greenhouse gas and a pollutant that affects health at ground level.

And lost methane means lost revenues, because royalties and taxes would otherwise be owed on it.

The Obama Administration is moving forward with methane regulation. The regulations take two forms: one directed at lessees on federal lands (BLM regulations) and the other proposed by EPA to regulate air emissions from operations on all lands. We work with an active coalition of environmental groups and affected citizens to support these regulations. Four of our five congressional representatives have indicated their support for federal regulation, along with Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Methane pollution is weird. It’s really just natural gas, which the operators don’t find worth capturing for a variety of reasons. Leakage occurs when a well is first developed and is exacerbated in fracking by the use of fluids intended to replace water. It can occur in the transport of gas through pipelines and in the processing of gases. Most visibly, flaring is a means of burning off unwanted gas. But why would a company burn off a seemingly valuable resource? The reason typically is that there are no pipelines near an oil well (oil and gas are often co-produced), and the price of oil is sufficiently high that the company doesn’t want to build a pipeline and capture gas. Poor maintenance practices are also involved, as field research is beginning to indicate that a few outliers are responsible for a large percentage of leaks.

The interests of the oil and gas companies and their contractors aren’t the same as those who own the land (we the people, in the case of BLM lands) or those who receive royalties or other revenues from oil and gas development (including the state). The damage to the earth and our future from these emissions is significant.

What can we do? In the short run, we need to be vocal about the damage caused by methane and companies’ responsibility to stop these emissions. The proposed regulations are good, but not sufficient, so we should anticipate further refinement. Industry is responding with a familiar, and inconsistent, refrain: the regulations are too expensive, and we’re already doing what they require. (Huh?)

The industry may be waiting for the end of the Obama Administration in hopes of a more pliant president. That has obvious implications for us in electoral terms but also suggests that we need to persuade a lot more people that these regulations make sense. For example, the Colorado legislature enacted these controls at a state level. We also need that buy-in from our legislators.

Bottom line: let Chapter Director Camilla Feibelman know if you can help: camilla.feibelman@sierraclub.org.


NM Environment Department proposes improved methane safeguards

NM Environment Department proposes improved methane safeguards

May 6, 2021 | News Release Today, the New Mexico Environment Department proposed new rules to limit emissions from oil and gas operations in the state by requiring companies to detect and repair leaks as well as control other pollution sources. The new rules aim to elevate New Mexico’s position for clean air regulations on the oil and gas industry among major-producing states from worst to first. Today’s rules combine with companion rules from the state’s Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) limiting industry venting and flaring of methane targeting that goal. “The Environment Department responded to our call and the call from many community and environmental groups around the state to tighten gaping loopholes in its original draft rule from last summer ...
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In a letter to the Biden administration, 134 environmental, public health, and advocacy organizations are urging President Biden to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use the full power of sections 111(b) and 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to reduce methane air pollution from new and existing sources of oil and gas development by 65% by 2025 ...
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Statements on Congressional Review Act resolution for methane safeguards

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Senators Heinrich, King, and Markey and Majority Leader Schumer introduced a resolution in the Senate and U.S. Reps. DeGette, Peters, and Lamb introduced a resolution in the House that would reinstate the Environmental Protection Agency's 2016 methane pollution safeguards ...
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New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission finalizes rules

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The New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission finalized a new rule proposed by the state’s Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department to limit venting and flaring of methane by the oil and gas industry. The OCC rule marks an important step forward in reducing methane waste, a significant climate pollutant, and holding the oil and gas industry accountable for the tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases it is currently emitting in New Mexico ...
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Greater Chaco Coalition Responds to DOI Virtual Forum on Federal Oil and Gas Leasing 

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In response to The Department of the Interior virtual public forum the Greater Chaco Coalition, a collaborative effort between over 200 Indigenous community leaders and groups, environmental justice advocates, and environmental groups representing thousands of New Mexicans and millions of Americans issued a public statement that the oil and gas leasing program must be fundamentally reformed ...
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Oil and Gas Leasing on Federal Public Land in New Mexico: An Outdated System

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In New Mexico alone, there are more than 3 million acres currently leased to oil and gas companies for exploration and drilling. Because of outdated rate structures, these leases go for far less than market value, creating huge revenue losses to the state ...
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On September 16, conservation groups joined hundreds of others in urging Gov. Lujan-Grisham’s state agencies to take advantage of the opportunity to slash our state’s climate pollution and make the air healthier for all of us ...
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Methane – Curbing Oil and Gas Waste and Pollution
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