New Mexico has a problem with natural gas waste. The recent NASA's Four Corners methane report found that two of the most polluted energy-producing regions are located in the state. In fact, NASA found that a Delaware-sized methane cloud is hovering over the Four Corners region, that only 10 percent of the methane sources contribute half of all emissions and that leaking storage tanks and pipelines are the major culprits.
Methane is the primary component of natural gas. Without question, it's time to reduce methane emissions and cut natural gas waste. This issue is what brought New Mexicans together last month for a forum sponsored by Southwest Organizing Project, JUNTOS, Hispanic Access Foundation and HECHO on air quality and the Bureau of Land Management's natural gas waste rule.
The BLM's proposed rule would curb natural gas waste by requiring oil and gas developers drilling on public lands to use the most up-to-date technology to capture wasted natural gas that is either released into the atmosphere or burnt off (commonly referred to as "flaring") and repair leaks from equipment.
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan listened to San Miguel County Commissioner Rock Ulibarri and concerned citizens speak about the importance of cutting natural gas waste on our public lands.
Every year oil and gas companies waste hundreds of millions of dollars worth of natural gas through unchecked leaks, venting and flaring. Natural gas waste has cost New Mexicans tens of millions in tax dollars, including funds that would have been used for education. Estimates show that enough taxpayer-owned natural gas is being wasted annually on America's public lands to supply the entire state of New Mexico for a year. Put another way, oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands are wasting more than $330 million worth of natural gas nationwide each year. Nearly a third of all that waste occurs on public lands in New Mexico.
The land, air and water are part of New Mexico's cherished outdoor heritage and we have a moral obligation to protect it. We need to hold developers accountable with common sense rules, so they don't damage the air we breathe, the water we rely on, and the land we all own.
No wonder Latino leaders from San Miguel, Rio Arriba, and Santa Fe counties, as well as other local officials statewide, support the BLM natural gas waste rule.
This waste also leads to vast amounts of toxic pollution being released into the air. Numerous studies have shown that Latinos face disproportionate health hazards largely due to poor environmental health--they are more likely to live in areas affected by pollution and more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups. Moreover, San Juan and Eddy counties, the state's largest natural gas and oil producers respectively, received failing grades in the American Lung Association's State of the Air report. Greater protections for our nation's public lands will help address some of the larger health issues that affect our community as a whole.
We appreciate the leadership of New Mexico's elected officials like Sens. Udall and Heinrich around an issue that is of great importance to the state's Latino community. There is no excuse to not modernize oil and gas development, especially when our health and safety hangs in the balance. And if the resulting changes equal hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, we can invest in improving health outcomes and community infrastructure.
Camilla Simon, director for Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO), co-authored this piece.