Guest opinion: Set aside the drama and focus on the facts

Carla J. Sonntag


Guest Editorial


So much drama, so little focus on the facts. That’s the heart of methane issues being addressed by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management.

The U.S. Appellate Court recently ruled against the EPA’s right to stay portions of a rule regulating methane from new and modified oil and natural gas equipment for 90 days. Two of the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt did not have the authority to delay implementation of the rule.

Congress gave the states and the EPA jurisdiction over air quality, so I’d have to agree with the dissenting U.S. Appellate court judge who stated the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter.

There are many environmental activist groups weighing in on the subject, making claims about rule benefits that simply do not exist. New Mexico-based Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter director Camilla Feibelman said in a press release regarding methane, “This is a gas that is being extracted from public lands and is simply wasted by private companies. Capturing methane will bring more royalties into the state … ”

Let’s look at the facts. According to Energy in Depth, there is just over 1 percent of methane emissions from oil and natural gas exploration and production. In addition, emissions are down considerably in the major producing basins throughout the U.S. In fact, according to Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, there has been a continuing “long-term trend since 1990 of reducing methane emissions by 20 percent even as natural gas production has skyrocketed by 50 percent.”

Why is that? Natural gas producers have absolutely no incentive to release/lose methane when it is the lead ingredient of the product they are extracting. It’s simple economics and good business practice to capture as much methane as possible. The drive for efficiency has led to improved technology which has produced these significantly better results.

NMBC places a high priority on this issue due to the impact to our state. When you see the tremendous strides an industry has made, placing additional onerous requirements on it that will impede production doesn’t make sense. It makes even less sense in a state struggling with financial solvency. About 27 percent of our state’s budget is from revenue derived from the oil and gas industry. When you consider the impact of that contribution as related to our public schools, infrastructure, public safety and health care, everyone should be concerned about the impact of this rule. The loss of revenue to the state, in addition to the loss of additional jobs, will only continue our current economic decline.

Feibelman also stated the rule “will protect kids from smog associated with this pollution."

An inconvenient truth that the Sierra Club and other "keep it in the ground" activists don't want to acknowledge is the American Lung Association's 2017 State of the Air report. It shows Farmington having some of the best air quality in the nation, tying it for first place on the list of top cleanest U.S. cities for year-round particle pollution.

The 2017 ALA report also shows that Farmington is ranked 78th out of 228 metropolitan areas for high ozone days, but that Farmington has had no increase in high ozone days since 1997. When you consider no increase in high ozone days in comparison to the increased production in the industry, you can readily see why "the air is killing us" mentality is a bit extreme.

There is also the issue of the Fruitland Formation outcrop in Colorado where methane seepage was recognized in the early 1930s and was documented in a 1999 BLM report. If you’re concerned about methane, you need to look at all sources to determine if action is needed at a specific point.

It’s time to set aside the drama, focus on the facts, and allow the oil and gas industry to produce the product we all need while providing jobs and a significant contribution to our state’s budget for the common good.

Carla J. Sonntag is the president and founder of the New Mexico Business Coalition.