Schreiber: Proposed methane rule a net positive

Don Schreiber
Guest Columnist

Let's be honest.  Natural gas, methane, leaks from wells here in the San Juan Basin.  And is vented.  And is flared.  It leaks and vents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it is flared periodically.

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I have lived here in the Basin since 1948 and it has always been that way.  Wells don’t leak, vent and flare just when gas is cheap, like it is now.

So when I talk about the waste of New Mexico taxpayer dollars to industry executives or to politicians, or to a TV audience, it's important to look at how much money we're going to lose over the long run, not just at the lowest price on some single day.

You’d think that we'd all appreciate some straight forward data that can help us deal with the terrible local economic pressures that everyone is feeling throughout the San Juan Basin, and in New Mexico in general, but that doesn't seem to be what New Mexico Oil and Gas Association lobbyist Wally Drangmeister wants to hear.

Western Values Project reported that the American taxpayer could lose out on $800 million in royalty revenue over the next 10 years.

But Drangmeister criticized that report for not using today's natural gas price of just under $2 per Mcf.  The problem is, that would not make any sense.

If we take a closer look, U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that the monthly price of natural gas over the last 10 years was more than $4.50 per Mcf.  That number more realistically represents the price of natural gas over the long run.

And that $800 million translates to tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue to our state.  Money that could and should be going to New Mexico schools.  Given how much of a wreck the state budget is in, this is not the time to be wasting anything, especially money.

This Bureau of Land Management  rule under consideration in Washington, D.C., right now updates a thirty-year-old rule and addresses methane waste from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands.

But if the issue of wasting taxpayer dollars isn't compelling enough, the rule has the co-benefit of cleaning up our air by cutting other emissions such as benzene, toluene, and xylene that affect our local citizens and are making us famous world-wide, and not in a good way.

I think many in our community are so troubled about the crippling effects of the plunge in natural gas and oil prices that they are reacting in fear and not looking closely at the real numbers.  Over-development of our gas and oil resources have left us with one of the biggest surplus' in history.  Low prices are causing all of our pain.

What's not causing our problems is a BLM rule that hasn't even gone into effect yet. In fact, when our neighbors in Colorado took similar steps to address methane waste, both oil and gas production and the number of wells increased.

There has already been job creation in cleaning up the leaking, venting and flaring.  I think the Four Corners area, and towns such as Lindrith, are uniquely suited to not only invent and engineer the answers to fixing the leaks, capturing the venting, and stopping the flaring but to provide the expertise and manpower to put those solutions in place.

We've always done that in the past.

Don and Jane Schreiber have lived on the Devil's Spring Ranch in Gobernador since 1999.  Don owned Schreiber Insurance Agency in Farmington for 22 years, specializing in energy and aviation risk management.  Jane retired from the Farmington School system as a fourth-grade teacher.