Oil and Gas Drilling In New Mexico Scrutinized, Methane Leaks Soar

Kiva Ruins at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park     Photo: Evalyn Bemis

A surge in oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin of New Mexico is causing a dramatic increase in methane emissions according to a new study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).  The Associated Press reports that the EDF analysis showed that in 2018 statewide methane gas emissions from oil and natural gas production is five times higher than what the petroleum companies are reporting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and more than twice what EDF estimated these emissions to be two years ago. According to EDF,

  • Oil and gas operators in New Mexico emit approximately 1,000,000 metric tons of methane a year;
  • These emissions are the equivalent of wasting $275 million worth of natural gas and losing out on an additional $43 million in tax and royalty revenue to the state every year in lost methane gas;
  • In response, the new Governor of New Mexico has ordered her state agencies to develop strong rules to cut oil and gas methane emissions as quickly as possible.

The House Natural Resources Committee held a field hearing yesterday in Santa Fe on the impacts of oil and gas development near the Chaco Canyon Culture National Historical Park and other Native American sacred sites, after members spent the last several days in New Mexico visiting oil and gas operations there.  Using infrared cameras, Members of Congress were able to observe the methane leaks coming out of the wells near Chaco Canyon.  “You could see the plumes coming out and moving across the sky,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM.  Lujan is working to permanently prohibit new oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The Committee also heard from residents about how oil and gas development and uranium mining near the Park degrades water, impacts air quality and contributes to climate change.  According to the National Park Service, Chaco Canyon was the center of a thriving culture a thousand years ago with monumental scale architecture and complex community life.  

Why This Matters:  The waste involved in these oil and gas operations is literally and figuratively sickening.  Not to mention to the absolute disregard for the impacts that the pollution has on Native American ancient sites like Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.  On a day when so many people are feeling an ache in their heart for the loss of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, how can we not feel the same way about the loss of the ancient temples of our continent?  If oil and gas companies cannot drill responsibly, why should they be allowed to drill at all?  Which is just what Presidential Candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed today — a total moratorium on oil and gas drilling on federal lands and ocean waters.

To Go Deeper: Native American historic sites in the Southwest have long been subject to looting.  Watch this PBS Documentary narrated by Robert Redford to learn more about another threat to these historic treasures.

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