By Miya King-Flaherty,
Chapter Public Lands fellow
On August 15, NASA released a report that affirms what we already know about the infamous 2,500-square mile methane cloud that hovers over the Four Corners area.
Throughout oil and gas operations, methane leaks occur from storage tanks, pipelines and well pads, adding to the methane plume and exacerbating climate disruption.
The NASA study identified 250 sources in the San Juan Basin that significantly contribute to the methane cloud. Even more astonishingly, only 10 percent of these sources — also known as “super-emitters” — are responsible for more than half of all methane emissions.
In an effort to document and highlight the severity of methane emissions in the Four Corners, Sierra Club representatives teamed up with an Earthworks-certified thermographer to retrace “super-emitting” areas delineated in the NASA report.
After hours of searching for “super-emitting” sites using a FLIR infrared camera, the crew located one area near a Go Cart racing track in Aztec, N.M. In this area, the crew found three oil and gas well pads in close proximity, all revealing methane leaks. One well pad had four leaks. Another, less than 100 meters away, had one, while the third pad, less than a mile away, had three leaks. This is a total of eight leaks in a single area that constantly release methane into the air. The following day, representatives from Diné CARE, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Earthworks, the Sierra Club and several media outlets visited a number of methane-emitting sites to see the problem first hand.
Oil and gas operators are the largest industrial source of methane pollution in the Four Corners area. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Reducing methane waste also cuts pollutants such as the volatile organic compounds benzene, toluene, or xylene that form ground-level ozone or smog when they interact with sunlight. Smog has been linked to a host of health problems including asthma, heart failure and upper-respiratory disease.
Now is the time to adopt common-sense rules that the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed to address methane waste from the hundreds of thousands of existing oil and gas facilities across the country. The BLM and EPA rules are a win-win, generating more revenue for industry as well as helping to curb global warming.
For more information about the NASA study, or to read the report, please visit: www.riograndesierraclub.org/nasa-methane-study/.