By Jon Goldstein, Albuquerque Journal
Sept. 30, 2018

It’s been a tough few weeks for New Mexico’s clean air and taxpayers. Like a one-two punch, the Trump administration has moved to roll back Environmental Protection Agency standards designed to protect our air from methane and related oil and gas air pollution. Meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Land Management finalized its repeal of methane waste prevention rules specifically designed to cut the $330 million worth of wasted natural gas – primarily made up of methane – lost from federal and tribal lands every year.

Nowhere will these rollbacks hit harder than in New Mexico. The state is saddled with an ignominious Delaware-sized methane cloud hanging over its San Juan Basin and with as much as $240 million worth of wasted natural gas statewide every year. This means wasted revenue that the state can and should be capturing to invest in urgent needs like education. For instance, if this methane waste and the associated state tax and royalty revenue was captured, the state could increase pre-K enrollment by 50 percent and allow 5,000 more New Mexico kids access to quality early childhood education, according to education advocates New Mexico Voices for Children.

Luckily, the state has the tools at its disposal to be the master of its own methane destiny. We can fix this problem here at the state level, even as the federal government retreats, through sensible, proven requirements that increase revenue, protect our air and create jobs.

State methane rules have been a success in neighboring states. Colorado put a statewide rule in place in 2014, and regulators there have reported dramatic reductions in leaks from oil and gas wells, meanwhile the oil and gas industry has achieved record-breaking production levels. Since implementing their rule with the cooperation of three of the largest oil and gas producers in Colorado, the state has also received zero complaints and no lawsuits seeking to block the rule. In fact, just last fall, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in conjunction with the Environmental Defense Fund proudly supported further improvements to the rules to drive even more pollution reductions.

With strong leaders in Santa Fe, New Mexico can do the same. Of the two candidates for governor, one, Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, has repeatedly stepped up to defend the federal rules that are good for New Mexico’s clean air and revenues. The other, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, has taken every opportunity to undermine these sensible requirements – even sponsoring legislation in Washington that would have blocked funding for the implementation of the BLM methane waste rule.

The oil and gas industry needs to step up, as well. In the face of federal rollbacks, the oil and gas industry is at a crossroads. Leading companies have touted the benefits of cleaner burning natural gas for years, but unchecked methane emissions are erasing the claimed climate benefits of natural gas and, without strong regulations in place, there’s no productive role for the fuel to play in a low-carbon future.

The current boom in oil and gas drilling in Southeastern New Mexico’s Permian Basin is a tremendous opportunity for New Mexico. With sensible rules including methane pollution and waste requirements, we can maximize the benefits of this development and minimize the negative impacts. Without them, the state will be left with even more wasted natural resources and the industry with a Delaware-sized hole in its reputation in New Mexico and nationally.

As forward-thinking producers have done in Colorado, Wyoming and elsewhere, New Mexico’s leading oil and gas companies have an opportunity to engage positively on state air pollution and natural gas waste reduction requirements. The time is now.

Jon Goldstein is a former Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.