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Advocates call on EPA to follow NM’s lead on methane reduction

 Gas flare at an oil field in Eddy County, New Mexico.
Gas flare at an oil field in Eddy County, New Mexico.

The Environmental Protection Agency kicked off a series of public hearings Tuesday, Nov. 30, on its proposed rule to reduce methane from oil and gas operations. New Mexico is the second largest producer of oil in the nation, but also a leader in curbing air pollution from the industry. Local advocates called on the EPA to follow the state’s lead and strengthen the proposal.

Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, urged the panel of regulators to make the strictest state rules on methane reduction – like some found in New Mexico – the federal minimum.

“And protect us from states like Texas,” she said, “that haven’t taken the steps they need to protect their own communities, much less their neighbors like us."

Feibelman pointed to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission’s ban earlier this year of routine venting and flaring of natural gas. The EPA proposal only eliminates venting, which is the release of methane gas directly into the atmosphere. Flaring, on the other hand, is the controlled combustion of natural gas. According to Earthworks, an environmental nonprofit, flaring is often done on gas that is not worth selling or poses a safety hazard.

In addition to calling for the agency to address abandoned and orphaned wells and institute more leak detection at smaller wells, Feibelman encouraged the panel to create a community monitoring program.

“Here in New Mexico, local communities – in collaboration with environmental organizations – have played a key role in reporting leaking of facilities that our agencies haven’t had the funding to address,” she said.

The EPA’s public hearings on the proposal continues online through Thursday, Dec. 2.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.