New Mexico Establishes Weakest-in-the-Nation Clean Air Protections from Oil and Gas Development

New drilling permits would not help reduce New Mexico’s methane hot spot or other harmful pollution

April 27, 2018
Kelsey Robinson, (512) 691-3404

(SANTA FE, N.M. - Apr. 27, 2018) – The New Mexico Environment Department today approved new permits for oil and gas sites that are seriously deficient, constituting some of the weakest oil and gas air quality standards in the nation. They fail to include adequate protections for reducing harmful methane pollution that has made the state the subject of national attention. 

Methane – the main component of natural gas – is a potent climate pollutant and a valuable energy resource. In 2014, NASA scientists discovered a massive 2,500-square-mile methane “hot spot” hovering over the Four Corners region of New Mexico. Subsequent studies confirmed emissions from the region’s oil and gas development were largely responsible for the massive methane concentration. 

A separate analysis of New Mexico’s methane emissions confirms oil and gas companies could be wasting between $182 and $244 million worth of natural gas each year as a result of leaking equipment and other wasteful practices. 

The new drilling permits finalized today include no requirements for companies to check their facilities for these harmful gas leaks, even though, according to the International Energy Agency, oil and gas methane emissions can be cut in half at zero net cost with existing tools and technologies.  

The Martinez administration revised and weakened these permits at a time when the Trump administration is rolling back federal oil and gas standards. The Bureau of Land Management just this week completed a comment period on its proposal to gut methane reduction standards that would apply to oil and gas facilities operating on New Mexico’s public and tribal lands – even though over 400,000 stakeholders, including 47 local elected officials from across New Mexico, submitted public comments in favor of protecting these methane standards. 

The Trump administration’s rollback efforts combined with these latest actions by the Martinez administration also come at a time when oil and gas activity in New Mexico’s Permian Basin is booming. Left unchecked, this boom will mean a commensurate increase in pollution and energy waste in New Mexico as well.  

“These new drilling permits are being rushed through the regulatory process during the 11th hour of the Martinez administration at the expense of New Mexico’s communities, economy, and environment – they are essentially a parting gift to the worst actors in the oil and gas industry,” said Jon Goldstein, Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at Environmental Defense Fund. “New Mexico families deserve policies that work to serve the interests of the people, not some of the weakest oil and gas air quality regulations in the country.” 

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