Our comments are informed by the governor’s mandate to NMED and the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD): “…jointly develop a statewide, enforceable regulatory framework to secure reductions in oil and gas sector methane emissions and to prevent waste from new and existing sources and enact such rules as soon as practicable.”
The issuance of regulations to reduce emissions is an important step on the path toward New Mexico’s stated goal of curbing climate pollution, including from the oil and gas industry.
Efforts to stem this pollution are particularly critical now because methane–a key component of oil and gas production–is 86 times more damaging to our climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe.1 Currently, this is only twice as long as the time that scientists say we have to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.2
In addition to being bad for the climate, oil and gas pollution must be reined in because of its contribution to the formation of ozone. It is well-known that oil and gas pollution causes a range of health problems, in particular those connected with volatile organic compounds (VOCs).3 Recent science also indicates that methane and ethane play a role in the formation of ground-level ozone.4
The contributions of the oil and gas industry to the formation of ozone threatens the health of the nearly 140,000 New Mexico residents who live within a half-mile of active operations—a number that is growing as the state allows industry to continue to expand.5
The following comments are underpinned by these pressing realities, which Earthworks has closely documented in oil and gas fields nationwide. We have worked with directly impacted residents, researched the ability of state agencies to oversee the industry and enforce regulations, and, since 2014, used Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) to make visible otherwise invisible oil and gas pollution.
In short, our experience underscores the importance of having strong rules to reduce the harm caused by the oil and gas industry. However, equally important is the need for state agencies to have the resources, staff, and political will to enforce rules and, in so doing, increase protection for communities and the environment. Only then will regulations serve their intended purpose as mechanisms to hold operators accountable for the pollution and harm they cause.6
- Gayathri Vaidyanathan, “How bad of a greenhouse gas is methane?” Scientific American, 2015. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-bad-of-a-greenhouse-gas-is-methane/
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5 degrees celsius, 2018, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
- See database of peer-reviewed science on health impacts at https://www.zotero.org/groups/248773/pse_study_citation_database/items/collectionKey/SASKSKDG; and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction), Sixth Edition 2019. http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/
- Fiore, A. M., West, J.J., Horowitz, L.W. et al. “Characterizing the tropospheric ozone response to methane emission controls and the benefits to climate and air quality.” Journal of Geophysical Research, 2008.
- Earthworks, Clean Air Task Force, and FracTracker Alliance, Oil and gas Threat Map, New Mexico section, https://oilandgasthreatmap.com/threat-map/new-mexico/
- Lisa Sumi, Breaking All the Rules: The Crisis in Oil and Gas Regulatory Enforcement. Earthworks 2012; Sharon Wilson, Lisa Sumi, and Wilma Subra, Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale. Earthworks 2013; Nadia Steinzor, Blackout in the Gas Patch: How Pennsylvania residents are left in the dark on health and enforcement. Earthworks 2014; Nadia Steinzor, Permitted to Pollute: How oil and gas operators and regulators exploit clean air protections and put the public at risk. Earthworks 2017; Nathalie Eddy, New Mexico’s Moving Ahead: Restoring the Oil Conservation Division’s Strength and Authority. Earthworks 2019; Nathalie Eddy, Putting the Public First: How CDPHE can overcome its legacy of prioritizing oil and gas interests ahead of public health, safety, welfare, and the environment. Earthworks 2020.