Albuquerque Journal: New methane rule will cut energy waste, create jobs

As New Mexico steps up its efforts to reduce methane waste and pollution from the oil and gas industry, the state is well-positioned to realize returns, in addition to the obvious public health and climate benefits.

The methane mitigation industry already boasts upward of 18 locations, including leak detection and repair services, equipment maintenance facilities, sales centers and a company headquarters. Enacting strong state methane waste and pollution rules by 2020 would be a win-win, protecting the health of New Mexicans and the environment while creating highly skilled, family-wage jobs and capturing lost tax and royalty revenue for public services like education.

In states with strong methane rules, such as Colorado, oil and gas companies are thriving while cutting emissions and repairing leaks to stop energy waste. Companies in New Mexico don’t operate under the same rules, and oil and gas operators here release more than 1 million metric tons of methane every year.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas, and the venting, flaring and leaks of methane waste more $275 million worth of natural gas annually. That’s enough natural gas to provide the heating and cooking needs to the entire state of New Mexico – two times over. Plus, wasted natural gas costs the state more than $40 million in lost tax and royalty revenue.

As oil production continues to grow in the Permian Basin, the waste issue is only going to get bigger. Some companies have stepped up and are implementing best practices, proving it is possible and necessary to reduce the impacts of methane waste and pollution across the state.

However, that is only a fraction of the industry, and we need every oil and gas company to be held to the same high standard.

And these oil and gas emissions are about more than just dollars and cents. More than 130,000 New Mexicans live within a half-mile of oil and gas development. Air pollution from methane and other natural gas byproducts disproportionately impacts rural and tribal communities, children and the elderly with respiratory diseases like emphysema and asthma. Eddy, Lea, San Juan, Rio Arriba and Chavez counties – the five counties home to 97% of the state’s oil and gas wells – are all at risk of violating federal ozone standards of 70 parts per million.

The good news is that we can choose a new course. The Center for Methane Emissions Solutions represents businesses that offer innovative solutions and cutting-edge technologies to detect and capture methane emissions from faulty oil and gas equipment and inefficient practices. Our businesses aid inspectors on the job to significantly cut methane emissions across the oil and gas supply chain. We have the know-how to reduce emissions cost-effectively, helping oil and gas operators operate more safely and efficiently, while at the same time creating jobs and increasing local, state and federal tax revenues.

The methane mitigation industry is continually innovating, and new technologies are coming online every day. Any methane waste rule should provide flexibility and a pathway for that innovation. The administration should also create a level playing field for competition by requiring third-party verification to ensure the state is getting the emission reductions we know can be achieved.

The center looks forward to working with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her agencies to develop nation-leading rules that will create jobs for New Mexicans in the methane mitigation industry. The sooner New Mexico gets rules in place, the sooner New Mexicans will reap the economic, environmental and public health benefits. Methane mitigation offers a solution and an opportunity for New Mexico to achieve its vision for a more prosperous future for the state.