Peace: Aztec mayor wrong about Methane Rule

Jeffrey Peace
Letters to the Editor

I see Aztec Mayor Victor Snover is the latest politician to criticize the BLM decision to repeal or roll back the methane rule.  

In the past year and a half I have seen very similar letters from a Taos County commissioner, a former member of the Richardson cabinet who now works for an environmental group, several other politicians (all Democrats) and members of the religious community.  

They all listed the same concerns as Mayor Snover, which include wasting natural gas, loss of royalties, the methane cloud and air pollution.  

Oil and gas companies make money by selling the natural gas they produce, not by letting it leak into the atmosphere. When they find leaks they fix them. That is good business sense. “Common sense standards” are not necessary.  

Most natural gas wells in the San Juan Basin are marginal producers, and with current natural gas prices of less than $2/mcf many cannot pay their operating costs.  In the past three years the BLM Farmington office has approved many more permits to plug and abandon wells than they have approved permits to drill new wells. 
If operators are required to install control equipment on those marginal wells, many of those wells will be plugged and abandoned.  Plugged wells produce no gas and therefore no royalties, so royalties will decrease instead of increase.

In regard to the methane cloud, LT Environmental has been studying the Fruitland Coal Outcrop in Colorado for several years and has estimated a significant portion, possibly up to one-third, of the methane released into the atmosphere is from these outcrops. These natural seeps have been occurring for many years, and the BLM methane rule will not reduce or eliminate them.  

Blaming the oil and gas industry for the “methane cloud” and saying the BLM methane rule will eliminate it is not realistic. In regard to air pollution attributed to methane, the EPA does not have a limit in milligrams/liter or parts per billion or any other concentration for methane.  Given that, then what would be the target for the methane rule?  Without a concentration to achieve, there would be no way to determine if the methane rule is effective.

Finally, Mayor Snover states “local economies should not suffer from something that is preventable, fixable and just common sense.” Has he driven around Aztec and San Juan County lately and noticed how many homes have “For Sale” signs in front of them?  The active rig count in the San Juan Basin has gone from 32 rigs in 2008 to five rigs running in 2017 and has averaged five rigs so far in 2018.  

Many San Juan County residents who worked in the oil and gas industry have lost their jobs and have moved to the Permian Basin in West Texas and Southeast New Mexico or other areas to find work. It sounds to me like Mayor Snover wants to see more of those “For Sale” signs, because that is what likely will happen if the methane rule is kept in place.

Jeff Peace peace is a Kirtland resident.