In 2014, NASA found a Delaware-sized methane ‘hot spot’ hanging over the Four Corners region of the southwestern U.S. This area is also home to a high density of oil and gas development. Last week, NASA released a follow-up study, finding a direct link between oil and gas activity in the San Juan Basin and the methane cloud. And of the 250 sites NASA examined, 25 industrial sites were classified as “super emitters” and contributed over 50 percent of observed methane emissions found in the region and at least a quarter of known total methane emissions basin-wide. WVP has documented how expensive the venting, flaring, and leaking of natural gas is to taxpayers in New Mexico and throughout the West.
Of course, oil and gas lobbying groups immediately yelled ‘foul’ about the study.
The Western Energy Alliance, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and the La Plata Energy Council quickly showed industry’s concerns are more about protecting the bottom lines of the companies that are profiting off a broken system.
So it’s no surprise that industry groups attacked NASA’s study with paper-thin arguments, such as the allegation that the study only represented a snapshot in time and didn’t consider natural or other human-made methane sources. Ironically, if the data they ask for were included in the study, even more oil and gas production sites that spew methane emissions would have been identified. We should focus on reducing methane emissions at these larger sources, before identifying small, more-insignificant methane sources, so NASA’s approach makes sense.
Industry also suggests geography is a contributor to the hotspot. While features of the land may prevent the methane emissions from escaping the basin, this should not excuse industry polluters from their responsibility in the role in the development of a historic methane plume. These groups also touted how natural gas producers have already cut methane emissions 15 percent over a nearly 30-year period.
The truth is that methane emissions have been on the rise according to the latest available data submitted by the industry itself for both oil and natural gas systems (which likely severely underreports fugitive methane emissions).
As this figure is clearly not as impressive as industry thinks, it also promotes a clear message that leaving the reduction of methane waste—and the lost tax dollars that go with it–voluntarily up to oil and gas producers does not work and across-the-board, regional measures are needed to rein in methane waste from industry practices.
Just this week, the Albuquerque Journal editorialized that the NASA report adds fuel to fire that we have the information we need now to act and cut methane emissions and reduce natural gas waste, such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s natural gas waste rule which could save millions of dollars each year for taxpayers in individual western states.