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NM Groups Slam Move in Congress to Kill Methane Waste Rule

NASA graphics show a methane gas cloud hovering over the Four Corners area. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to kill a federal rule meant to reduce methane pollution. (NASA)
NASA graphics show a methane gas cloud hovering over the Four Corners area. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to kill a federal rule meant to reduce methane pollution. (NASA)
February 3, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. - The U.S. House of Representatives today is slated to repeal the Bureau of Land Management's Methane Waste Rule, which requires drilling companies to capture excess methane at oil and gas wells on public land rather than burn or vent it into the atmosphere.

The Obama-era rule went into effect only weeks ago, after years of public comment and hearings as well as a court challenge.

Kent Salazar, a board member of the New Mexico chapter of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO), said companies should be required to install methane-capture equipment so the gas can be sold and generate royalties for taxpayers.

"Especially now, New Mexico's in dire economic straits because of the drop in oil prices, and as citizens of the state of New Mexico, we're losing money when we lose our resource," he said. "When this methane is vented off, that's waste."

Opponents of the Methane Waste Rule have said it imposes additional costs on the industry by requiring more equipment in remote locations. To scrap the law, the Congressional Review Act is being invoked, a rare tactic that requires only a simple majority in the House and Senate and forbids the BLM from crafting a similar rule in the future.

Pollution from compounds in methane gas has been linked to respiratory disease and cancer, so Salazar argued that the Methane Waste Rule is needed to protect air quality in local communities.

"It affects the health of the Native Americans (and) the Hispanics that live out by these wells," he said. "The natural gas that comes on methane has some other substances attached to it, such as benzene - which, when they enter the air like that and these people breathe it in, it causes health problems."

Oil and gas developers have fought the rule for months, insisting they'll reduce gas leaks voluntarily. However, studies have estimated that natural gas valued at $330 million a year is wasted on public lands, nearly a third of it in New Mexico.

A summary of the rule is online at doi.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NM