An Environmental Win for The Four Corners
- Waste: According to Interior, in 2014, oil and gas companies wasted more than 4 percent of the natural gas they produced on federal lands, sufficient gas to supply nearly 1.5 million households with gas for a year.
- Public health: Methane released by the oil and gas industry comes packaged with other toxic pollutants— benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene — and smog-forming volatile organic compounds.
- Climate: Methane is a greenhouse gas 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide during the time it remains in the atmosphere.
- Taxpayers: The BLM methane waste rule would earn taxpayers about $800 million in royalties on publicly owned methane resources over the next decade. Since 1980, lax provisions have resulted in BLM rubber-stamping industry requests to vent and flare natural gas and to avoid paying royalties. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates lost royalties at nearly $23 million annually under the antiquated regime.
A NASA study found that roughly 50 percent of basin-wide methane emissions come from more than 250 very large polluters that were detected by intensive NASA aerial surveys and ground crews. According to the authors, this finding confirms researchers’ earlier speculation that most of the basin’s methane emissions are related to natural gas extraction and coal mining.
But this is only half of the story as the study did not determine the source of the remaining 50 percent of emissions. Given the more than 20,000 (mainly older) gas wells, myriad storage tanks, thousands of miles of pipelines, and several gas processing plants in the area, NASA’s finding that the oil and gas industry is primarily responsible for the “hot spot” is not surprising. In fact, the researchers found only one large source of methane not related to oil and gas operations: venting from the San Juan coal mine. This discovery renders attempts to point the finger at other potential emissions sources, like coal outcrops and landfills, definitively refuted.Despite identifying the source of the emissions, one of the authors’ key conclusions is not supported by the evidence. The report says that the small number of large methane sources, “suggests that mitigation of field-wide emissions such as those estimated for Four Corners will be less costly because it only requires identifying and fixing a few emitters.” [emphasis added]