Activists are pushing for federal rules on curbing wasted natural gas to look more like New Mexico’s recently passed rules, as they wait for data to reflect that they work.
The Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental advocacy group, and Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog organization, released a study last week showing that oil and gas companies that operate on U.S. public and tribal lands wasted over $500 million worth of gas in 2019, which was the most recent year with data available.
New Mexico topped the list of states in wasted gas, but EDF Senior Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs Jon Goldstein also called it a leader in cutting back.
“What we’d like to see (the Bureau of Land Management) do is build from the example that New Mexico has set in terms of putting an end, essentially, to routine venting and flaring,” he said.
Pipeline leaks are the most common cause of wasted natural gas, but some is also lost through flaring and venting, which are both methods for getting rid of natural gas that comes as a byproduct of oil drilling.
Methane emissions, including those from wasted natural gas, drive at least a quarter of human-caused global warming, according to the EDF. Goldstein said it also puts company profits before taxpayers who would benefit from the sale of the natural gas.
“Rather than invest in infrastructure to get that associated gas to market, the company will just flare it. They’ll burn it off at the well site and treat it like a nuisance,” Goldstein said.
But he pointed to new rules in New Mexico that were passed after the data was collected as an example of what he’d like to see the federal and state government do to change that.
New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, or EMNRD, is pushing oil and gas operators to capture 98% of their natural gas waste by the end of 2026. The rules went into effect in 2021 and require operators to report natural gas loss extensively, while prohibiting routine venting and flaring. It also allows the Oil Conservation Division to deny drilling permits if capture targets aren’t met.
A spokesperson for EMNRD said via email that it is on track to meet its target by the end of 2026 and is already seeing a difference in its reporting. In the first 11 months of the new rules, there was a 36% reduction in gas lost.