WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee, spoke on the Senate floor after the Senate voted to defeat a resolution to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Methane Waste Prevention Rule.
In his remarks, Senator Heinrich highlighted the importance of protecting the methane rule, stating, "The common-sense and cost-effective protections in the rule were put in place to reduce harmful methane and benzene pollution and to ensure that oil and gas operations are using technological advances that minimize emissions and maximize the amount of natural gas we produce. Today’s vote is a major victory for responsible development of our natural gas resources and our nation’s decades-long commitment to protect the air we breathe.”
Senator Heinrich welcomed the BLM’s final rule last year to update the 30-year-old regulations governing natural gas operations on public and Indian lands, which will save taxpayers' money and energy resources. Earlier this year, Senator Heinrich urged Senate leaders to protect the rule and reject attempts to use the Congressional Review Act to repeal it.
Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
I’m proud that the Senate voted to reject an effort to overturn common-sense protections to reduce methane waste. Three years ago, satellite images from NASA revealed that there is a giant cloud of methane—about the size of Delaware—sitting over the Four Corners region in northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado.
Although evidence had shown that there was methane air pollution in the Four Corners as early as 2003, the image of NASA data is striking.
This is a warning of a potential major threat to public health for communities in the region.
The San Juan Basin in the Four Corners region has long been a leading producer of oil and natural gas.
With the natural gas boom of the mid-2000’s, production in the basin grew by leaps and bounds, creating hundreds of new high-paying jobs and a major new domestic supply of an important energy resource.
But, unfortunately, amid all of this growth, some producers developing natural gas on our public and tribal lands released harmful air pollution and wasted these publicly owned resources by allowing methane to leak into the air from faulty equipment and pipes, and even by burning off valuable natural gas in a process called “flaring.”
Following the discovery of the methane “hot spot,” NASA researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory joined Caltech and University of Michigan scientists to conduct a detailed study into its cause.
Some oil and gas producers claimed that the hot spot was caused primarily by “natural seeps” of gas from underground geologic formations and by gas venting out from an old coal mine in the region.
But the NASA researchers, using instruments mounted on aircraft that flew close to the ground and throughout 1,200 square miles of air space in the Four Corners region identified leaks from natural gas wells as the major methane emitters contributing to the methane air pollution.
As a greenhouse gas, methane has over 80 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide in the short term.
We have a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate our contributions to climate change.
But even absent its consequences for climate change, methane leaks waste valuable energy resources and harm public health.
When methane leaks from oil and gas wells, harmful carcinogens like benzene leak into the air alongside it.
Because of the air pollution over the Four Corners region, the American Lung Association gave San Juan County in New Mexico an “F” rating for ozone pollution in 2016.
That means children are suffering more asthma attacks, and seniors are having trouble breathing.
But I want to be clear that this issue is not a case of pitting development of our energy resources against human health.
We have a golden opportunity here to apply innovative, existing technologies to this problem, grow our economy, and improve air quality for the people of the Four Corners region. That’s because minimizing the amount of methane that leaks, vents, or flares, out of oil and gas wells isn’t just good for air quality: it’s good for business and the bottom line.
When oil and gas companies modernize their equipment to reduce leaks, they are able to capture more gas that they can sell, as well as increase worker safety at their wells.
When we capture more gas, that also means we see more royalties and revenues for states, tribes, and local communities.
By updating oil and natural gas production equipment and infrastructure to reduce wasted natural gas, we create new jobs for energy workers and manufacturers.
And when we reduce wasteful leaks, that means that instead of having a giant methane cloud over the northwest corner of New Mexico and over the Navajo Nation—a major public health hazard—instead of that, we can put our publicly-owned natural gas resources to beneficial use.
That’s the definition of a “win-win situation.”
I say all of this because that is exactly what the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste Prevention Rule is designed to do.
The common-sense and cost-effective protections in the rule were put in place to reduce harmful methane and benzene pollution and to ensure that oil and gas operations are using technological advances that minimize emissions and maximize the amount of natural gas we produce.
Between 2009 and 2015, the BLM estimates that oil and gas producers on our public and tribal lands vented, flared, and leaked 462 billion cubic feet of methane.
They wasted enough natural gas to supply over 6 million American households for an entire year.
Instead of heating homes or fueling power plants or buses, that gas was leaked into the atmosphere wasting millions of dollars of this limited resource.
It’s estimated that the oil and gas industry wastes about 100 million dollars’ worth of natural gas every year.
That also means 6 million dollars each year of lost state revenue that pays for schools, roads, and emergency services in New Mexico.
A recent report found that New Mexico taxpayers have lost out on over 42 million dollars in royalty revenue since 2009.
When oil and gas producers have existing tools and technology to prevent this, that methane waste is simply unacceptable. The BLM’s Methane Waste Prevention Rule will help put a stop to this waste.
While developing the rule, the BLM held public meetings and tribal consultations and factored in feedback from over 300,000 comments submitted during the public comment period.
The agency also coordinated with states like Colorado, Wyoming, and North Dakota that have already created similar protections to reduce methane leaking and flaring at the state level.
The BLM rule will have minimal costs for oil and gas producers, and, in fact, leak detections and repairs required by the rule will help companies make more money selling the gas they save.
Meanwhile, this rule will grow our economy by investing in innovative companies that have developed the technologies to minimize leaks and protect public health.
This rule should not be controversial.
The overwhelming majority of my constituents in New Mexico support reducing wasted natural gas.
A recent poll by Colorado College conducted after the election found that 74 percent of New Mexicans support the BLM’s methane waste reduction rule.
I’m proud that enough senators shared that view and voted to reject an attempt to repeal this common-sense protection of public health, air quality, and responsible development of our natural gas resources.
There is nothing “conservative” about making it easier to waste a precious public energy source.
We should be focused on reducing waste, capturing critical royalties for New Mexico communities, and putting our natural gas resources to beneficial use.
This repeal effort of the BLM Methane Rule would have represented a major step backward.
Today’s vote is a major victory for responsible development of our natural gas resources and our nation’s decades-long commitment to protect the air we breathe.