Is NM developing methane regulations without understanding the role of natural sources?

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A pro-oil and gas advocacy group is questioning why New Mexico is developing methane regulations without first determining the role naturally-occurring sources — like coal outcroppings — play in the formation of a methane hot spot over the Four Corners region.

Power the Future argues that the state should first determine the role of naturally-occurring sources prior to developing the regulations that impact the oil and gas industry.

The state launched an effort earlier this year to develop regulations to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas extraction. State officials have said in public meetings that the oil and gas industry is responsible for 62% of methane emissions statewide. 

More:The state is drafting new methane regulations, but some fear that will devastate an industry

However, Power the Future Western States Director Larry Behrens said he received a copy of an email through a public records request that shows the state does not know how much the industry contributes to methane emissions.

This email is from NMED spokeswoman Maddy Hayden to Nora Sackett and Tripp Stelnicki, who work as spokespeople for the governor’s office. This email contains a draft press release regarding emission standards for cars. At the bottom of the draft press release, it also discusses the governor’s methane mitigation efforts.

In the email, NMED tells the governor’s team to leave out references to the Four Corners methane hot spot because there are naturally occurring sources that contribute to the hot spot. NMED further states that they don’t know how much naturally-occurring emissions contribute to the hot spot.

Jane Shriver drives past an oil and gas site, Monday, May 15, 2017 located near her ranch in Gobernador.

More:'Make sure it happens for our sake over here.' Residents encourage regulating methane

“This email raises a number of questions,” Behrens said. “By their own admission, this administration doesn’t know what role naturally occurring methane sources contribute and yet they are moving forward with new regulations. If the administration's position isn’t accurate enough for a press release, how can it be accurate enough for rules that will impact thousands of energy workers in our communities?”

The role of naturally-occurring sources was only mentioned in connection to the Four Corners region. Hayden and Stelnicki said in an email that it would not make sense to postpone developing the regulations until the state can determine the role of naturally occurring sources. 

“There are plenty of reasons to reduce methane emissions aside from any contribution they make to the Four Corners cloud,” Hayden said.

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher).

The regulations the state is developing are not solely for the San Juan Basin. 

More:New Mexico cracking down on oil and gas methane waste, Heinrich and Udall call for action

The state is targeting methane for several reasons including its impact to climate change as well as the potential for additional revenue.

Hayden said methane waste throughout the state results in a loss of usable resources and royalties. The royalties the state could receive from the methane would go to educating children. Hayden said the methane waste is unacceptable for those reasons.

An oil and gas production site is pictured Nov. 3, 2014 in Lybrook.

“We’re pressing forward with new methane rules because we know we need them,” Stelnicki said. “The oil and gas industry agrees. Larry’s sketchy dark money funders might not, but New Mexicans understand the issue and the urgency and the need to come together and move forward.”

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association released its proposals to mitigate methane emissions earlier this year, and NMED has co-hosted public input sessions with the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department in communities throughout the state.

More:Oil and gas industry association provides input on methane emission monitoring in New Mexico

In addition, a methane advisory panel was created to help develop these regulations. This panel consists of more than two dozen members ranging from environmental activists to industry professionals.

Jon Goldstein asks a question, Monday, July 29, 2019, during a meeting about methane at San Juan College.

However, Power the Future is not the only group concerned that the regulations could negatively impact industry if the role of naturally-occurring sources is not understood.

During a San Juan County Commission meeting in August, Commissioner Jim Crowley highlighted the role of naturally-occurring seeps. The San Juan County Commission passed a resolution asking the state not to create blanket regulations for both the San Juan and Permian basins.

More:County resolution on methane emissions highlights difference between San Juan, Permian basins

When asked about why the state is pressing forward with new regulations when it does not understand the role of naturally-occurring sources, Hayden said volatile organic compounds and methane emissions contribute to ozone pollution in many parts of the state, not just San Juan County.

More:State of New Mexico works with data firm to track oil and gas methane emissions

“We will conduct photochemical modeling to better understand the contribution that comes from oil and gas as well as other sources,” Hayden said. “We know that methane is a potent greenhouse gas and a large contributor to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions profile. To meet our emission reduction goal by 2030, we must look at a wide variety of sources.”

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at

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