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New Mexico Leaders Meet to Tackle Methane Pollution

Energy and environmental experts met in Albuquerque last week to address methane pollution in advance of new EPA regulations. Credit: Versevend/iStockphoto
Energy and environmental experts met in Albuquerque last week to address methane pollution in advance of new EPA regulations. Credit: Versevend/iStockphoto
September 21, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Leaders from the energy industry met with government officials, environmental activists and utility experts last week to find a way to put a cap on methane emissions in New Mexico.

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering regulations for methane pollution, a byproduct of oil and gas production.

Patrick Von Bargen, executive director of the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, presented key technologies already in use in other states. He says the question for many in the industry is whether regulations can be effective and make economic sense at the same time.

"The answer is emphatically, 'yes,'" says Von Bargen. "If the oil and gas producer made investments in these technologies, they would recoup the cost rather quickly, and make a profit they hadn't made before."

Von Bargen calls new regulations one of those rare "win-win" situations, where capping methane pollution and turning it into energy is good for the environment and energy companies.

Jason Libersky, CEO of the engineering firm Quantigy, points out that reducing methane emissions could make a big difference in slowing climate change. Methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping climate-changing heat.

Since a significant portion of emissions happen on public lands, he says cutting pollution would also have a big impact on New Mexico's coffers.

"We're potentially losing between $10 million and $50 million a year in lost royalties by these methane emissions at the well pads," says Libersky.

Von Bargen cites an example in Colorado, where regulations helped a developer turn methane pollution into a revenue stream that quickly paid for the initial investment in new equipment.

"Until the regulations were in place and they actually had to detect them, they had no idea that there were 8,000 leaks in their oil and gas facilities," Von Bargen says. "They repaired them, and that gas is now being monetized and sold into the market."

Von Bargen adds gas production is expected to increase by 64 percent between now and 2040 across the globe, and if companies use American-made mitigation technologies, it could lead to more jobs. He says that's one more reason to put a cap on methane.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NM