Last week brought some very good news for New Mexicans. In a unanimous ruling, the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners resolved to support the Bureau of Land Management’s rules to charge royalties on wasted methane – the primary component of natural gas – on federal and tribal lands.
In 2014, New Mexico’s oil and gas producers reported wasting more than 180,000 metric tons of methane -- enough to heat more than 168,000 homes each year. And according to a recent NASA study, a methane cloud the size of Delaware currently sits above the Four Corners region, where much of the methane waste occurs from leaking, flaring and venting.
The impact of methane waste to New Mexicans has been staggering, and as usual, our children suffer the most. Over the last five years, the State of New Mexico has lost upwards of $50 million in tax revenue for education due to natural gas waste on public lands, at a time when the State is already facing a $120 million education funding shortfall.
Methane leaking and flaring also disproportionately impacts the health of Latinos. The harmful smog it produces has increased asthma attacks and aggravated lung diseases, especially devastating the state’s Latino population, which is three times more likely to die from asthma than any other racial or ethnic group.
The new BLM rules will modernize how the government accounts for methane waste on public lands, employing technologies that not only reduce that waste, but also cut toxic air pollutants such as benzene and ozone-forming volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gases.
Methane waste contradicts our values of conserving and respecting what the land provides for us. By passing this resolution, San Miguel County has taken an important stand that will help curb waste, provide a fair return on public resources for federal taxpayers, Tribes and States, and reduce harmful air pollution.
But perhaps most important, the resolution helps to establish a new legacy of conservation for future generations. And that is good news, indeed.