A group of U.S. Senate Democrats including New Mexico U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich pushed for the federal government to reinstate controls on methane emissions from oil and gas extraction operations after the administration of former-President Donald Trump sought to limit such regulations.
Heinrich led the group in introducing a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to cancel Trump’s cancellation of the 2012 and 2016 Oil and Natural Gas New Source Performance Standards which created
Heinrich was joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Angus King (I-Maine) in a Wednesday press conference on the proposed resolution in Washington, D.C. ahead of a vote on the resolution.
“This is a very big deal. And the fact that we’re using our first CRA on the methane rule shows how important it is and shows what a difference having a Democrat majority can have and that we can do these things,” Schumer said.
“It’s really vital. Methane is one of the most poisonous things we can put in our atmosphere. It is one of the first things we have done to fight global warming and it is certainly not the last.”
The industry is already capable of capturing much of the methane produced in fossil fuel extraction, Heinrich said.
In his home state New Mexico, the State and industry recently completed a rulemaking at the state level requiring operators retrofit pipelines, storage facilities and other industry under the requirement of capturing 98 percent of produced gas by 2026.
“The bad news is we have a huge methane leak problem. We’re leaking a lot of it. We’re venting it, we’re flaring it. The good news is we don’t have to do this,” Heinrich said. “We have the solution to this right now. The industry standards actually work.”
He said stricter federal methane rules would protect fence-line communities in New Mexico such as those in the Permian Basin of the southeast corner of the state and the San Juan Basin in the northwest region – both areas known for heavy oil and natural gas extraction.
The areas around Carlsbad and Hobbs – both cities within the Permian Basin region – were recently found by the New Mexico Environment Department to have ground-level ozone levels exceeding federal standards.
That led the State to undertake an initiative to reduce ozone pollution which is created when volatile organic compounds (VOCs), often from oil and gas emissions, interact with sunlight.
“This is a huge public health action. Much of this leaking happens in communities. Communities in my state. This is a down payment on the action we will take to reestablish the leadership of America,” Heinrich said. “This should be a no-brainer. This should be a no-brainer for every single member of the United States Senate”
King argued curbing methane emissions would set a standard by the U.S. that would likely be followed by other nations and reducing leaks and actions such as venting and flaring would be easy and had support of industry leaders.
The CRA resolution recently saw support from oil and gas giants Shell USA and BP, per a news release from Heinrich’s office, along with Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
“Regulating methane is the low-hanging fruit of climate action. It is the simplest thing we can do immediately to make a difference here and abroad,” King said. “It’s not only a vote that will affect us here in this country, but I believe it will have ripples and repercussions around the world.”
He said reducing emissions would protect public health and reinstating the methane rules would help mitigate climate change by cutting down on air pollution.
Methane was reported to have a global warming potential 80 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2).
“Regulating methane emissions from oil and gas is the right thing to do for our climate. We owe it to the communities where we live and work to reduce these emissions,” King said. “This isn’t industry versus regulation. This is common sense.”
Molly Rausch, public health policy director with Moms Clean Air Force, a national non-profit that advocates for air quality issues, said the methane standards must be reinstated to ensure public health is protected now and in the future.
“The methane CRA resolution is vital to protecting our environment. This vote is a vote on our children’s health and their future,” Rausch said. “Climate change is a health crisis, not in some distant future but right now. We need methane standards back in place to right now to reduce climate pollution.
“We need environmental justice. We need climate justice. Every child has the right to breathe clean air and to a stable climate.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.