Recently, ConocoPhillips tooted its own horn by touting the success of its natural gas waste capture programs. While we applaud ConocoPhillips’ steps towards reducing natural gas waste, there’s an omission that is the elephant in the room— ConocoPhillips is still the largest natural gas emitter in the US. Each year, ConocoPhillips emits the equivalent of burning nearly 25,000 railcars of coal. That’s a lot of waste.
Data from a Center for American Progress report on the worst US emitters shows how much natural gas ConocoPhillips emitted in 2014. Bottom line: ConocoPhillips is wasting natural gas—and thereby taxpayer dollars– at much higher rates than other US producers.
The San Juan Basin, New Mexico has the highest methane emissions per well in the entire US. Suspiciously, this region is home to a Delaware-sized methane cloud that NASA scientists identified from space in 2014.
Currently, New Mexico faces a $200 million budget deficit and its State Land Commissioner recently announced a 32% decline in revenue from state lands. Since 2010, New Mexico lost $50 million in royalty revenue from wasted natural gas on public lands; New Mexico also has the highest rate of natural gas waste in the country, at nearly $100 million each year. Recently, reports found EPA and BLM methane emission estimates are underestimated; we can safely assume these figures are much higher.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Bureau of Land Management proposed rules to limit natural gas waste on federal lands. These rules would pump millions into the economy of New Mexico, while boosting revenue and production for 99% of producers in the San Juan Basin for pennies on the dollar.
We’ve already seen rules like this in action, too. Colorado passed the nation’s most-stringent methane waste laws in 2014. State officials have not seen the rule affect oil and gas producers, natural gas production and number of wells have both increased, and 70% of oil and gas companies have found the benefits outweigh the costs associated with the rule. The BLM’s rule will benefit producers like ConocoPhillips and states like New Mexico, who regionally lag behind neighboring states in capitalizing on methane waste.
ConocoPhillips serves as two examples: 1) natural gas waste can be drastically cut by simply updating equipment, and 2) voluntary measures are not enough, as they continue to vent, flare, and leak away millions in taxpayer dollars. Across-the-board rules are needed to rein in methane emissions, and get states and taxpayers fair market value from the mining of our natural resources.