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Background: On December 21st, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) released findings from joint fly-over inspections conducted with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showing a 250% increase in oil and gas pollution in the New Mexican Permian Basin. NMED Director Jim Kenney called the findings an “undeniable call to action” to strengthen a state proposal to address ozone precursors.

The emissions were observed at leak rates of 3-5% depending on the area, far higher than what operators self-report and the rates documented by the state in 2019. A 2015 study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that such high leakage rates erase any advantages and make methane gas as bad or worse for climate than use of other fossil fuels in electricity generation.

Statement by Earthworks New Mexico Field Advocate Nathalie Eddy:

“For years, residents and advocates have raised the alarm over the health and climate impacts of oil and gas pollution in New Mexico. NMED is finally responding with efforts to directly measure industry emissions, like agencies should do everywhere, and a recognition that industry pollution is far worse than previously documented.

“These findings are alarming but not surprising. Other studies have also shown a high rate of oil and gas pollution that would mean methane gas is as bad or worse than other fossil fuels.

“The more oil and gas pollution is independently measured, the clearer it is that industry pollutes far more than it self-reports. With this clarity, Governor Lujan-Grisham should strengthen her proposed methane safeguards so they rein in oil and gas pollution from all existing sources, including older wells. NMED must also take into account the widespread, chronic pollution from sources of all types. Limited enforcement capacity should not get in the way of the agency’s mandate to protect people and the environment.

“If New Mexico is serious about reaching its ambitious climate goals and becoming a national leader on methane rules, the Governor needs to stop permitting new oil and gas operations.”

For more information:

  • New Mexico’s own 2020 climate report states that the oil and gas sector produces most of the methane released in the state–nearly four times more than previously estimated thanks to improved data.

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