Column: Cutting methane emissions is good stewardship
Fall in New Mexico is amazing. The sun highlights in a luminous way the unique colors and beauty of cottonwoods and mesas in this land sacred to so many for millennia. But there is an invisible threat to our land, water, air and communities that I do not believe the Creator intends to be there. Methane pollution from leaks and flarings in our oil and gas fields are unseen threats hurting health, increasing climate change and wasting a resource that could bring millions more dollars in royalties to New Mexico communities each year.
As an Episcopal faith leader working with my Navajo brothers and sisters, I see too often poor health from asthma and cancer. I know too well the poverty that should not exist in a land that is so beautiful and with many gifts. I also am aware of the relationships of those of us living in the Four Corners to brothers and sisters around the world who are the most vulnerable and suffering the most from climate change which is increasing droughts, fires, flooding, food insecurity and refugees and immigrants.
Calling attention to climate justice concerns is on the front burner this week with the Papal visit even as Environmental Protection Agency hearings on methane pollution take place. The papal visit affirms the moral and ethical call of each of us to speak and act for life and that is one reason that we work with New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light to address these critical concerns.
Methane pollution in our region is a critical concern which affects us greatly and contributes adversely to many challenges facing God’s creation and our brothers and sisters. The Episcopal Church in Navajo supports efforts of stewardship and conservation addressed in the forthcoming EPA and Bureau of Land Management rules to regulate methane pollution, leaks and flaring.
Many of us were shocked last fall to see the U.S. map produced by NASA showing the largest methane cloud in the entire country over our lands. We choked as we realized the cloud was the size of Delaware. We wept when we discovered that methane — the primary component of natural gas — warms the climate at a rate 80 times more than pollution from heating our homes or driving our cars. As a faith leader, I am responsible to speak the truth, no matter how challenging, because faith leaders hold up ethical and moral standards to guide actions for life and the common good.
Data reported by the oil and gas industry itself indicates that in 2013 the San Juan Basin’s oil and gas industry emitted almost 220,000 metric tons of methane. By comparison, Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin is also a big gas field with almost twice the gas production of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico, but it only has half the associated emissions. A key difference? Wyoming has been working over the past several years to put strong new rules in place to reduce emissions from new and existing oil and gas sources.
New rules from EPA will reduce methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure constructed or modified after the rule is enacted. New rules from BLM will reduce methane emissions from both new and existing oil and gas infrastructure based on their statutory obligation to minimize waste of public resources on public lands.
Compliance with these rules, counter to industry claims, is relatively inexpensive. Industry could cut methane emissions by 40 percent below projected 2018 levels at an average annual cost of less than 1 cent on average per thousand cubic feet of produced natural gas by adopting available emissions-control technologies and operating practices. When the full economic value of recovered natural gas is taken into account, a 40 percent reduction is achievable while saving the U.S. economy & consumers over $100 million per year.
Too often we allow pollution in areas of our state populated by those who are people of color or economically challenged, and so, this is also an environmental justice issue. Being a good steward means caring for creation and our brothers and sisters. I believe everyone wants to be a good steward. Maybe we have not been aware of the devastation that our methane pollution has caused and is causing. Now we are aware and we have the opportunity with new rules to turn around our practices of waste to protect health, climate, and future generations in the Land of Enchantment.
Bishop David Bailey is the leader of The Episcopal Church in Navajoland which works with New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light on climate justice.