SANTA FE, N.M. – In these waning days of the Obama administration, the Bureau of Land Management just finalized a new set of rules to cut down on natural-gas emissions at well sites on public land.
Studies have shown that gas valued at about $330 million is wasted each year through leaks, venting and flaring at well sites – just under a third of that in New Mexico alone – which means lost royalties for state and tribal governments.
Laurie Weahkee, executive director of the Native American Voters Alliance and the Dine (Navajo) Cochiti and Zuni Pueblo, applauded the new regulations.
“For one, it protects the earth,” she said. “We’re concerned about the emissions and its impact on our communities. When all that harmful pollution is prevented, then it makes money for the tribes, as well as it protects our climate.”
The new rules will be phased in and will require companies to install methane-capture equipment on their wells. A “threat map” released by The Wilderness Society and Earthworks shows that nearly 50,000 New Mexicans live within a half-mile of oil and gas wells on BLM-managed land.
Jim Ramey, outreach coordinator for The Wilderness Society, said the change cracks down on air pollutants that are harmful to human health and that contribute to climate change.
“This rule tries to cut back on all of that,” he said, “through having companies actually look for leaks and repair them, through putting limits on the intentional burning through flaring and venting.”
Ramey said he thinks the regulations could survive the next administration because they prevent waste, create compliance-related jobs that cannot be outsourced, and ultimately will save oil and gas companies money, since the gas that once was wasted can now be sold.
The regulations are online at blm.gov.