Sierra Club director responds
Carla Sonntag’s column distorts my statements and the American Lung Association’s report on air pollution in Northwest New Mexico. She notes the good news on particle pollution — Farmington’s air has little of this, largely due to reductions from the Four Corners Power Plant.
But the pollution from the gas industry mainly causes a different type of pollution, ozone smog which increases asthma and cardiovascular risks especially in kids — and the ALA gives San Juan County a “C” for ozone. We don’t think that's good enough. Oil and gas workers, their families and the larger community deserve an industry that is a good neighbor and takes childrens’ health seriously.
EPA and BLM standards that cut methane waste will also reduce ozone smog and create jobs while increasing income for the state since methane is the main component of natural gas and can be captured and sold.
Just over the border in Colorado, oil and gas operators report that their state-level methane protections are no big deal. They are easy and cheap to implement. Repairing leaks and installing capture equipment creates jobs. And especially on gas wells, they increase productivity.
And, the Colorado rule has probably helped improve the air in San Juan county (which moved from an “F” in ALA’s 2016 report to a “C” this year). Air pollution doesn’t respect state boundaries, so Colorado’s rule may have helped us. But maybe most importantly, they increase royalties on a resource that belongs to every American because it is extracted from our public lands.
The Daily Times even reported last year on a company that will install methane-capture equipment for free and share the profits with the producer. The implication that these rules are somehow responsible for the current health of the oil and gas industry in New Mexico is simply incorrect. The rules have yet to be implemented.
We may not see eye to eye on every issue, but like many of you, I am a New Mexican born and raised and want to see our state progress in a way that works for industry, our kids, our health, our economy, and our future. And I bet we all have that in common.
Sierra Club: Rio Grande Chapter Director
Questions for Hilcorp
In a Q&A last month in the Energy magazine, Hilcorp — the energy company that will take over all of ConocoPhillips’ oil and gas operations in the region — told the Farmington Daily Times that as part of this transition, the company was committed to “prioritizing safety and being good environmental stewards of the land.”
One critical test for Hilcorp will be the company’s approach to addressing the methane emissions.
Methane has made the Four Corners region the focus of national attention ever since NASA scientists discovered a massive methane cloud over the San Juan Basin – and subsequent scientific studies identified the oil and gas industry as the primary source of this methane “hot spot.”
ConocoPhillips (now Hilcorp) is said to be the biggest polluter by far.
Methane is not merely an environmental problem — it’s also an economic one. When oil and gas facilities leak methane (natural gas), valuable energy resources are wasted. Since much of the development in San Juan occurs on public and tribal lands, this wasted gas translates into lost royalty revenues for New Mexico communities.
If Hilcorp is committed to being responsible stewards of our energy resources, a vigilant focus on methane leaks is non-negotiable. We hope the company will live up to its promise to the Farmington community and adhere to our existing policies designed to reduce needless energy waste, protect our public health and capture lost taxpayer revenue.
Shirley (Sug) McNall