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EPA Finalizes New Regulations on Methane Emissions

EPA rules finalized this week will require new oil and gas rigs to capture and sell methane rather than release it into the atmosphere. (Brasil2/iStockphoto)
EPA rules finalized this week will require new oil and gas rigs to capture and sell methane rather than release it into the atmosphere. (Brasil2/iStockphoto)
May 13, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. - The environmental community in New Mexico and across the country on Thursday hailed the Environmental Protection Agency's move to finalize new standards for methane emission from new oil and gas wells. The agency says the regulations will significantly lower greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, produced when oil and gas operations release or "flare" methane.

Jessica Ennis, senior legislative representative for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said the new regulation will allow everyone to breathe a little easier.

"In 2014, according to EPA, 9.8 million metric tons of methane was emitted by the oil and gas industry," she said. "This is the largest source of methane, actually, in the country, so this will be a big bite out of climate pollution with this rule being finalized."

Ennis said the new rule is important because it sets the first-ever national standards for limiting methane pollution, a greenhouse gas that is 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide. While the new rule applies only to new sources of methane emissions, she said, it sets the stage for rules on existing sources in the future.

One of the most polluted areas in the nation is the so-called "methane cloud" that hovers over the Four Corners region, including northwestern New Mexico. Carol Davis, a spokeswoman for Diné CARE, an environmental group in the Navajo Nation, said respiratory illnesses among tribal residents are much higher in that part of the reservation.

"What we have found so far is there aren't any complete studies that have been done connecting the oil and gas or even just the methane pollution to the health of the people," she said, "but it's sort of just an unspoken understanding that that's really where it's coming from."

The new standards are projected to reduce 460,000 metric tons of methane pollution per year by 2025 - the equivalent of shutting down 11 coal-fired power plants. The EPA said it also will save Americans $100 million annually in costs related to air pollution.

The environmental community in New Mexico and across the country on Thursday hailed the E-P-A's move to finalize standards for methane emission from new oil and gas wells. Mark Richardson reports.

More information is online here and here.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM