Opinion: Aztec mayor calls for methane emission reductions

Victor Snover
Mayor of Aztec

As Mayor of Aztec, I believe a prosperous community is defined by economic and educational opportunity and a healthy environment, with clean air and water at the center of our community’s quality of life. 

The Four Corners methane hot spot is the most concentrated cloud of methane pollution in the United States. It is a 2,500-square-mile problem that is affecting the quality of life for tens of thousands of people in Aztec, Farmington and other communities across the Four Corners region.

That is why I strongly support Governor Lujan Grisham’s efforts to enact nationally leading regulations in the next 12 months that will dramatically reduce methane pollution and waste from oil and gas development. Her state Environment Department and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department are already hard at work and have released a comprehensive white paper on emissions reductions opportunities for public comment. I look forward to them moving forward on comprehensive rules in 2020.

Methane waste and pollution from oil and gas operations is impacting air quality, damaging the climate for future generations and wasting millions of dollars in taxpayer-owned revenue for needed services.

Victor Snover

In 2014, NASA discovered a cloud of methane the size of Delaware hovering over the Four Corners region. The pollution was attributed largely to the oil and gas industry, and subsequent studies have reaffirmed this fact, despite efforts by some intentionally misleading statements from industry funded groups in the Daily Times recently (Is NM developing methane regulations without understanding the role of natural source? Daily Times, 12/13/2019).

In 2014 Colorado became a model state by placing the nation’s first limitations on methane emissions from oil and gas operations – a move that has not hurt the industry – but New Mexico is lagging behind. Oil and gas operators in the state release more than one million metric tons of methane annually through leaking, venting and flaring natural gas. That’s leading to the waste of $275 million per year in our energy resources and an additional $43 million per year in state tax and royalty revenue that we could be investing in our schools.

And these methane leaks are also allowing other harmful forms of pollution to escape that lead to the formation of ozone smog. According to the state’s air quality data and the American Lung Association’s latest annual report, San Juan County is at risk of violating federal ozone standards. That puts our children and the elderly at higher risk for respiratory diseases like emphysema and asthma.

New Mexico’s methane emissions also have the same short-term climate impacts as 22 coal-fired power plants or 28 million automobiles. That means that if we don’t act to cut methane we will be leaving our kids longer, more intense wildfire seasons and more drought.

It’s time for New Mexico to step up and cut methane emissions for the sake of our communities and our future. I applaud Governor Lujan Grisham for her leadership and commitment to protecting public health and addressing climate change by creating nationally-leading methane waste and pollution regulations.

Victor Snover is the Mayor of Aztec, New Mexico, and a contributor to Western Leaders Voices, a program of Western Leaders Network that helps amplify the voices of local and tribal elected leaders on conservation issues in the West.