January 22, 2016

NM Delegation Welcomes BLM's Draft Rule on Reducing Natural Gas Loss, Fighting Climate Change

In letter, delegation urges EPA to strengthen proposed standards and establish new rule

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham welcomed the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) draft rules for curbing natural gas waste. New Mexico is the nation's leading producer of oil from onshore federal land, and second for natural gas production. Yet too much of the state's natural gas goes to waste through venting, flaring and leaks - causing dangerous methane pollution over the San Juan Basin. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide within the first 20 years after it is emitted. A NASA study has identified a methane hot spot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin - the highest concentration in the nation.

In July, the New Mexico lawmakers called for prompt action on the federal standards to protect public health, fight climate change and ensure taxpayers receive fair compensation for mineral production on federal lands.

"New Mexico's natural resources provide jobs and royalty payments and are an important part of our state's economy. But over $100 million worth of those natural gas resources are being wasted each year due to outdated requirements, costing the state of New Mexico $43 million in lost royalties since 2009," the lawmakers said in a joint statement. "The waste is a serious health issue and contributes to smog and climate change."

"The new methane waste-reduction rules announced today are an important step toward better management of public resources," the lawmakers' statement continued. "They will help ensure producers reduce venting, flaring and leaks from oil and gas production sites. Every molecule of natural gas that is captured is a molecule that can be sold and put to good use and increase state and federal royalties - and that will help ensure New Mexicans have clean air generations into the future."

Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to submit comments. The Department of the Interior plans to hold a series of public meetings on the proposed rule in February and March.

In praising the BLM's proposed rules, the lawmakers also urged the administration to take further steps to rein in methane pollution. In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which - like the BLM - is in the process of drafting new policies to address waste and pollution from oil and gas operations, the lawmakers asked EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to strengthen the EPA's proposed rules.

Specifically, the lawmakers asked McCarthy to strengthen and finalize the EPA's proposed standards to control methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas operations. They also recommended that the EPA next consider a rule governing methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations.

"We strongly support many features of the proposed standard," the lawmakers wrote of the EPA's draft rules. "The proposal would require for the first time the capture of methane and VOC emissions from hydraulically fractured oil wells, a major source of pollution. The proposed rule also contains common-sense standards for important sources of methane emissions from oil and gas facilities and equipment."

"However, we believe there may be room for improvement as we understand that several critical sources of methane emissions were omitted from EPA's proposal. We would strongly encourage EPA to review additional sources and rigorous leak detection and repair standards to ensure the rule successfully incorporates best practices. By finalizing a strong new and modified rule, EPA will be well prepared to pursue a successful existing source rule as well," they concluded.

The letter is available HERE and below.

January 22, 2016

The Honorable Gina McCarthy
Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator McCarthy:

We write with regard to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recently proposed standards to control methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas operations. We are pleased that EPA is moving forward and urge the agency to finalize the new and modified rule. In addition, we also recommend that EPA next consider an existing source rule for methane emissions.

Tackling methane is an integral part of avoiding the most serious human health and environmental consequences associated with climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide within the first 20 years after it is emitted. The oil and gas industry alone accounts for more than 7 million tons of methane emissions annually.

Curbing methane emissions will provide significant co-benefits by reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) that contribute to soot and smog -a serious air pollution problem that contributes to premature deaths and increased rates of asthma attacks - as well as toxic pollutants like benzene. By damaging the respiratory system, we know that smog harms some of our most vulnerable populations.

In addition, wasted methane gas equals an enormous amount of wasted revenue for both state and tribal governments. A recent report from the business consulting firm ICF International found that venting, flaring and leaks from oil and gas sites on federal and tribal land in New Mexico wasted $101 million worth of gas in 2013. New Mexico ranked highest in the nation for natural gas waste on public lands at 33.7 billion cubic feet. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it represents lost royalties to taxpayers totaling more than $42.7 million in forgone royalty revenue since 2009.

Oil and gas production is a major sector of New Mexico's economy, but we believe this development benefits our state and the nation most when it is done in an environmentally responsible way. Fortunately, the technology and know-how to minimize emissions from oil and gas facilities is readily available and affordable. EPA's final rule should take advantage of the ingenuity and availability of new technology and promote its use throughout the oil and gas system.

We strongly support many features of the proposed standard. The proposal would require for the first time the capture of methane and VOC emissions from hydraulically fractured oil wells, a major source of pollution. The proposed rule also contains common-sense standards for important sources of methane emissions from oil and gas facilities and equipment.

However, we believe there may be room for improvement as we understand that several critical sources of methane emissions were omitted from EPA's proposal. We would strongly encourage EPA to review additional sources and rigorous leak detection and repair standards to ensure the rule successfully incorporates best practices. By finalizing a strong new and modified rule, EPA will be well prepared to pursue a successful existing source rule as well.

We thank you for your attention to this important issue and look forward to working with you to achieve the strongest feasible standards to minimize methane emissions from new and existing sources in the nation's oil and gas sector.

Sincerely,

Tom Udall, United States Senator
Martin Heinrich, United States Senator
Ben Ray Luján, United States Representative
Michelle Lujan Grisham, United States Representative