Methane needs Bureau of Land Management regulation now (Santa Fe New Mexican 4/15/15)

4/15/2015
Rod Torrez

The largest plume of methane in the country is hanging over us in Northern New Mexico. Odorless and colorless, the methane, or natural gas, was first detected five years ago, but it was difficult to comprehend that such a large concentration of methane, one of the world’s most potent greenhouse gases, existed in our atmosphere. Its most prevalent source comes from the oil and gas developments throughout the San Juan Basin in the northwestern corner of our state.

Friday morning will be a good opportunity to learn more about the infamous methane plume hovering over the San Juan Basin, and to hear researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, from NASA and other institutions discuss what they are learning about it at a public forum beginning at 9 a.m. at San Juan College in Farmington.

That day, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be searching for the sources of the 2,500-square-mile methane plume, using two specially outfitted twin Otter aircraft.

Ground crews monitoring the area are also gathering data to pinpoint the exact places in the oil and gas industry’s infrastructure, as well as any other sources, which might contribute to the plume.

On display will be some of the technology that scientists are using in their endeavor.

Whatever we learn about the methane plume, our communities still know that to avoid costly economic, cultural and health impacts from venting and flaring natural gas, we need to make sure there are strong controls on these activities at oil and gas development sites.

Venting and flaring natural gas is not only wasteful economically, it flies in the face of a culture of conservation that many Latinos, like myself, have learned from our grandparents and practice for our children — use what you take, take only what you can use.

However, oil and gas companies aren’t compelled by the same culture of conservation because they reap billions off of our public resources while letting our communities bear the costs of infrastructure that checkerboards landscapes, harms wildlife, hinders public access and damages culturally significant places that we love.

Methane is dangerous both in its unburned form, which when vented is an asphyxiate, and in its burned form through flaring when it releases volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, including those that can cause asthma.

Fortunately, advances in technology have made it possible to keep the gas in the lines and to collect what has normally been flared or vented. Still, industry has been reluctant to adopt this technology.

In the next three months, the Bureau of Land Management should be releasing a draft rule that will help protect us from industry’s venting and flaring practices. Oil and gas companies will likely complain about the rule, insinuating that will hurt jobs and kill profits.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The industry can afford the rule, reap the benefits of the technology, and continue to contribute to the state coffers.

Although we, Northern New Mexicans, have the biggest methane plume in the country hovering over us, we have two big opportunities to help us get out from under it.

One is on Friday in Farmington, where we will learn what there is to know about methane in the San Juan Basin.

Two, starting now, join up with your fellow New Mexicans to be part of a public process that can give us the strong rule to put an end to needless venting and flaring. Nothing is more important than our health and well-being.

Rod Torrez lives in Northern New Mexico and works with Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHOonline.com). His blogs on conservation issues affecting Latinos can be found on HECHOonline.com and at Huffington Post.