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The Obama Administration on Aug. 18 introduced the first-ever proposed methane pollution standards for new and modified oil and gas facilities, a landmark announcement that will blunt the projected growth of methane and smog-forming pollution produced by the industry in New Mexico. The newly proposed standards will help to safeguard public health and put the United States closer to being on track to meet the Administration’s goal of reducing oil and gas methane pollution by 40 to 45 percent by 2025.

“New Mexicans were shocked to hear about the country’s biggest methane plume over the Four Corners area last year. Since then it’s been clear that we have to do something about methane, for the health of our people, to clear the smog it contributes to, and as an effective tool to fight global warming, since methane traps about 80 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide,” said Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club

Methane pollution and other toxic chemicals leaked and intentionally released during the oil and gas drilling and delivery process pose a threat to public health in New Mexico, where 180,000 already suffer from asthma. Currently, air pollution levels near some oil and gas wells are competing with Houston for the nation’s dirtiest air. The oil and gas facilities leak methane pollution that mixes with the emissions from the heavy equipment to create record-high smog levels. This toxic air pollution can cause serious health problems, including cancer, posing a risk to the workers and nearby, often disadvantaged neighbors. The proposed standards will reduce these careless leaks and pollution and other chemicals that pose serious public health risks.

“As a nurse I see the impacts of smog and asthma on our kids.  Methane might be invisible to the naked eye, but it’s like a BP oil spill in the air every day. Our young people deserve better, especially when there are easy fixes to capturing and selling this lost gas. The Administration’s methane rules will help create a safe environment for our families,” said Marijean Stephenson, a 20-year registered nurse practicing in the Four Corners area.

With methane pollution to blame for a quarter of man-made global warming, the proposed standards will also help the United States chart a course toward its goal of achieving overall emissions reductions of 20 to 25 percent by 2025. Pound for pound, methane traps 80 times more heat in the short term than carbon dioxide, but methane disappears far more quickly from the atmosphere, meaning reductions can make a huge difference in preventing the worst consequences of climate change.

“The Four Corners area is a sacrifice zone for our nation’s energy demand. It’s time for industry to do its part to capture leaking methane and to stop venting and flaring this potent gas. This is another signal of the environmental importance of reducing oil and gas methane emissions And these standards can help industry harness and sell methane that now is essentially spilling into the air, increasing royalties for our communities,” said Robert Tohe of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Dirty Fuels Program in the Four Corners area.

For years, the runaway oil and gas industry has been allowed to leak, flare, and vent millions of tons of methane and toxic chemicals into the air with little to no oversight. While the Obama administration proposed new voluntary measures for oil and gas producers designed to reduce methane pollution, of 475 oil and gas producers in New Mexico, only 10 have participated in the EPA’s voluntary program to date. This has resulted in millions of tons of methane pollution, akin to an oil spill that can’t be seen. For example, in 2013 alone, oil and gas facilities in New Mexico emitted nearly 250,000 metric tons of methane.  And recent reports suggest that New Mexico taxpayers have lost out on an estimated $42.7 million in royalty revenue since 2009.

While the standards proposed by the Administration would cover new and modified sites, existing oil and gas equipment would be exempt from the rule, thereby allowing them to continue to pollute our air with methane and toxic chemicals.

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The Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter is a volunteer-led organization with more than 7,000 members in New Mexico and West Texas. Our priorities are climate and energy, wild lands, wildlife and preserving our precious water resources.  

For more information visit: riograndesierraclub.org

Sierra Club applauds new methane pollution standard