ConocoPhillips is wrong: Natural gas waste costs communities, not big oil  

Last month, ConocoPhillips made a presentation to the New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee arguing that taking action to limit the wasteful practice of venting or flaring excess natural gas “would come at significant cost” and “put billions of dollars at risk.” And they’re not referring to the tax dollars that are wasted when they burn natural gas into the air.

It’s a rare and candid look into the oil and gas industry’s motivations for opposing steps to combat natural gas waste on public lands. Despite industry groups’ public claims that they are as interested as anyone else in cracking down on natural gas waste, they are admitting privately that they would rather vent and flare natural gas into the atmosphere than invest a small amount to put our domestic energy resources to good use.

A screenshot from the ConocoPhillips presentation.

A screenshot from the ConocoPhillips presentation.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s 4 reasons why the real costs of natural gas waste are borne by taxpayers and Western communities, not big oil companies:

  1. If venting and flaring natural gas into the atmosphere on public lands continues to go unchecked, it could cost taxpayers $800 million over the next 10 years — a cost that New Mexico teachers, police, and fire fighters pay dearly.
  2. Installing technology to capture natural gas before it’s wasted could actually have a net revenue benefit for companies on federal lands, and would cost pennies on the dollar on tribal lands.
  3. Recent studies show that 90% of methane emissions projected from 2011 to 2018 will come from existing sources, and therefore reducing leaks, venting and flaring from these sources has a huge return on investment.
  4. There’s a methane hot spot hovering over the Four Corners region of the Southwest, and ConocoPhillips is the biggest producer in the basin–by a factor of 6. There’s certainly some responsibility inherent in that statistic.

Altogether, capturing the gas that is leaked, vented or flared from those existing sources means more money for ConocoPhillips, and in turn more royalties for New Mexico communities that rely on oil and gas dollars to support local, county, and state budgets. Not taking action means New Mexico pays the price, while Conoco boosts their bottom line.

The disclosures are particularly timely because the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry’s biggest lobbying group, just announced that the chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips will be its new Board of Directors Chair. That position elevation means that ConocoPhillips now has even more influence than it previously had—we can only hope that they use it more responsibly in the future.

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