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Report: NM Tops List for Methane Gas Pollution on Public Land

PHOTO: Natural gas that is flared, vented or that simply leaks from development sites is costing New Mexico millions in lost energy royalties, says a new report that examines the financial and environmental impact of gas waste on federal and tribal land. Photo credit: Tim Evanson/Flickr.
PHOTO: Natural gas that is flared, vented or that simply leaks from development sites is costing New Mexico millions in lost energy royalties, says a new report that examines the financial and environmental impact of gas waste on federal and tribal land. Photo credit: Tim Evanson/Flickr.
June 24, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. - New Mexico tops the nation for the amount of methane pollution released from oil and gas drilling on federal and tribal land, according to a new report for the Environmental Defense Fund.

The study described the loss as a financial as well as environmental problem, since developers don't have to pay government royalties on the gas that escapes. In New Mexico, the report said, gas worth more than $100 million a year is being wasted.

Alexandra Merlino, assistant director of the Partnership for Responsible Business, said fixing the leaks to make energy development more efficient could be what she calls a "triple bottom-line win" for the state.

"It will improve our air. It will improve our taxpayer royalties," she said. "Right now we're losing about $12.5 million in royalties. That's huge. And it will give us good jobs - these are good, high-paying, high-skill jobs."

Colorado and Wyoming already have created rules to curb gas leaks and flaring for developers working on state-owned and private land, Merlino said, but New Mexico has not. This summer, the Bureau of Land Management plans to release new rules that encourage less waste and pollution in energy development on federal land.

The report estimated that in New Mexico alone, almost 34 billion cubic feet of natural gas escapes.

Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the BLM issues notices to some developers, but hasn't updated its rules in years.

"There's a lot of discrepancy across the country with different BLM field offices in how they treat gas that's leaked or vented, or flared," he said. "One of the things that we're hoping this rule will do is bring some uniformity and predictability to that process."

In the meantime, he said, enough gas is wasted on federal and tribal land to create about two-thirds of the methane emissions in the state. Nationally, the report said, oil and gas companies waste $360 million worth of natural gas annually.

The report is online at edf.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NM