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NM Rio Grande Sierra Club Keeps the Heat on Methane

In New Mexico, 145,000 residents live within a half mile of active oil and gas wells. (
In New Mexico, 145,000 residents live within a half mile of active oil and gas wells. (
February 22, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A new comment period will begin soon on the Interior Department's decision to replace an Obama-era regulation designed to restrict harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.

The Obama administration regulation was set to take effect on Jan. 17, but Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's new rule, to be published in the Federal Register, would mirror an older one in place before the Obama administration changed it.

Sierra Club Rio Grande Director Camilla Feibelman says 75 percent of Westerners want oil and gas venting and flaring reduced because of its environmental damage and the lost revenue that could help fund schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

"Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country, and especially in the West, have commented in favor of common sense, good neighbor rules to regulate methane waste and pollution, the administration has insisted on rolling back those rules," she points out.

Efforts to implement a separate 90-day stay of the rule were defeated in court.

New Mexico’s attorney general has joined a coalition of 14 other state attorneys general and the city of Chicago in submitting comments in opposition to the EPA's plan.

The oil and gas industry has assured the Trump administration that it will solve the release of methane through self-regulation and voluntary measures.

Methane is an invisible, odorless greenhouse gas that is 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and the oil and gas industry is the leading emitter.

Those emissions have been shown to cause a number of health problems, including cancer, asthma and birth defects.

Feibleman says 145,000 New Mexicans live within a half mile of active oil and gas wells and have spent years lobbying for changes only to have their confidence in government undermined by watching the new regulations rolled back.

"Here in New Mexico, what it feels like is that the well-connected are using their influence to save themselves a couple of dollars and put our families at risk on an issue that really could be solved fairly easily by industry," she states.

In the U.S., methane emissions from oil and gas operations are the second largest industrial contributor to climate change.

Upon publication of the rule, the public will have 60 days to comment, with a final rule expected later this year.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM