Don Schreiber said his ranch in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico is dotted with 122 oil and gas wells.
He said they are spewing harmful pollutants onto his land, threatening health problems and damaging the local environment.
Schreiber, a rancher in Rio Arriba County, said during his testimony Tuesday before the US Environmental Protection Agency that action needs to be taken at the federal level to truly protect New Mexicans from fossil fuel pollution.
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He said his country sits directly under a known methane pollution hotspot, a gas plume discovered in 2014 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) over the Four Corners region believed to be the result of accumulation of air pollution from oil and gas operations to be the region.
“We are never out of sight, sound or smell of leaking and venting gas wells,” Schreiber said. “It is heartbreaking for us to know that the damage from methane emissions is not just limited to our families but extends to our entire world as oil companies continue to release methane into our atmosphere in ever increasing amounts, literally setting our planet on fire. “
New Mexicans like Schreiber, who live next to oil and gas operations, and activists across the state have been calling for federal regulators to tighten air pollution restrictions for the oil and gas industry and arguing in support of the EPA’s recent proposal to tighten its rules.
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The calls came during a three-day public hearing held by the EPA on its proposed regulations to address methane emissions from oil and gas facilities across the country.
EPA’s proposed rules would expand on a November 2021 proposal and add monitoring requirements, set standards for zero-emission pumps, prevent flaring — the burning of excess gas — and methods to identify “super-emitters” of air pollutants.
The EPA estimated that if passed, its proposal would reduce methane emissions by 87 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, while the original 2021 proposal would have reduced emissions by 74 percent.
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This would avoid 36 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the EPA reported, along with 9.7 million tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that create smog.
It would also increase production of marketable natural gas — to a value of $4.6 billion by 2035, read an EPA report.
Public comments on the proposal were accepted by EPA in writing by February 13 via the agency’s online portal or by email to [email protected] with docket ID no. EPA-HQ-OAR-2021-0317 in the subject line of the message.
More:Oil and gas is trying to ‘clean energy’ amid pollution concerns in the Permian Basin.
Comments may also be mailed to the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Docket Center, Docket ID No. EPAHQ-OAR-2021-0317, Mail Code 28221T, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460.
Methane limits for oil and gas are “needed now,” groups say
Methane is known to be a common greenhouse gas emitted from industrial sources such as the extraction industry and is known to cause a variety of health effects when inhaled by nearby people.
It is a key component of natural gas that can be placed on the market but is often released into the air and adjacent communities.
New Mexico ranks second nationally in crude oil production and frequently in the top 10 states for natural gas, and methane emissions have recently been targeted by state regulators in response to the recent boom in fossil fuel production.
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But emissions don’t follow state lines, proponents argued, and several groups have called for stricter standards to reduce emissions nationwide.
They supported provisions in the proposal to increase leak detection requirements for new and existing oil and gas facilities, which are considered a major source of methane pollution in the US
New Mexico recently enacted similar state-level requirements with the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department in 2021 and the New Mexico Environment Department last year to increase gas capture and reduce emissions.
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Stricter requirements to curb flaring — the burning of excess gas — as well as the use of low-bleed pneumatic valves and expanded monitoring of abandoned oil and gas wells are also imperative at the federal level, Schreiber said, if the issue is to be addressed.
“I hope you hear me when I say that these regulations need to be strengthened and improved,” he said. “I especially hope that you will hear me on behalf of my frontline family and frontline families across the country that we need these regulations and we need them now.”
Kayley Shoup, who lives in Carlsbad, southeast New Mexico, and works as an organizer at local environmental group Citizens Caring for the Future, told EPA that she’s seen the impact of expanded oil and gas exploration firsthand.
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Shoup’s region lies within the Permian Basin, the US’s most productive oil and gas region, shared with West Texas, which produces nearly half of all US crude oil production, according to the Energy Information Administration.
NASA scientists last year discovered a methane plume about 2 miles long over Carlsbad, similar to that in the Four Corners region, which is also attributed to fossil fuel activity in the region.
Given the economic growth the industry was bringing to her hometown, Shoup worried that her roommates might be at greater risk of health effects like cancer and respiratory diseases.
The EPA considered designating the region in violation of state air quality requirements, a move that could limit oil and gas permitting and other regulatory activities.
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“People who call the Permian Basin home are grateful for these new and stricter regulations as we suffer from terrible air quality that routinely violates Clean Air Act standards,” Shoup said.
“With no signs of oil production slowing down, it is more important than ever for the health of my community and the planet that the environmental agencies tasked with cleaning up the air really do their job to minimize pollution as much as possible .”
Although New Mexico took steps to curb emissions, Antoinette Reyes of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club said Texas action was insufficient and federal rules were needed to protect New Mexico from pollution of the Permian Basin from the east.
“Air pollution knows no borders, these rules will greatly improve the lives of communities in New Mexico that border states that don’t have meaningful protections like Texas,” she said. “It is critical that the EPA establish a federal minimum limit for methane and other harmful pollutants from new and existing oil and gas operations.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.