Methane in NM: Environmental Hazard, Lost State Revenue

Methane flaring and oil derricks
Methane flaring and oil derricks. Photo courtesy of Public News Service.

A New Mexico nonprofit is trying to call attention to the leaking, venting, and flaring of methane by the state’s oil and gas industry.

Approximately 35 percent of the New Mexico state budget comes from the fossil fuel industry, much of it through oil and gas extraction on public lands leased to private oil and gas companies.

And a December 2017 report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group issued a warning about the dangers of increasing revenues from oil and gas:

“However, these revenue increases are almost entirely due to the oil and gas sector, making the state even more dependent on this highly volatile industry, creating a need for increasing reserves to offset this risk.”

Currently there’s a debate about the collection of methane gas, a byproduct of extraction processes. Methane is both a valuable resource and a dangerous pollutant. The Environmental Protection Agency lists methane as the second most prevalent greenhouse gas – one that remains in the atmosphere for 12 years.

When oil and natural gas producers in the state burn off methane or simply vent it into the atmosphere, they cost the state money as well as contribute to global warming. Lucas Herndon, political director of ProgressNow New Mexico explains.

“It’s estimated that if New Mexico oil and gas were properly capturing all of this methane as it’s leaked or vented or flared that you could collect $244 million,” Herndon said.“That’s how much is wasted. That translates into about $27 million in state taxes and royalty funding, and physically that’s enough gas to heat every home in the state of New Mexico.”

Sierra Club Rio Grande Director Camilla Feibelman says there is a fight to prevent the Trump administration from rolling back regulations that would lead to less methane capture rather than more.

“Here in New Mexico, what it feels like is that the well-connected are using their influence to save themselves a couple of dollars and put our families at risk on an issue that really could be solved fairly easily by industry,” Feibelman said.

Upon publication of the rule, the public will have 60 days to comment, with a final rule expected later this year.

Editor’s note: Some content courtesy of Public News Service.