New Mexico's Methane Problem

Jan 5, 2015

New development in Counselor, New Mexico.
Credit Laura Paskus

Last week, The Washington Post ran a story about the enormous plume of methane being produced in New Mexico.

As reporter Joby Warrick writes:

Satellites that sweep over energy-rich northern New Mexico can spot the gas as it escapes from drilling rigs, compressors and miles of pipeline snaking across the badlands. In the air it forms a giant plume: a permanent, Delaware-sized methane cloud, so vast that scientists questioned their own data when they first studied it three years ago. “We couldn’t be sure that the signal was real,” said NASA researcher Christian Frankenberg.

The country’s biggest methane “hot spot,”verified by NASA and University of Michigan scientists in October, is only the most dramatic example of what scientists describe as a $2 billion leak problem: the loss of methane from energy production sites across the country.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas--those gases, like carbon dioxide, are responsible for the changing climate--in the United States. And the American Geophysical Union produced a report this year on the Four Corners methane hotspot.

The Post article includes a link to a FLIR video made by the nonprofit Earthworks showing emissions coming from the Val Verde Blanco Plant in Bloomfield, N.M.

FLIR, or Forward Looking Infrared, cameras can reveal more than 20 types of gases not visible to the naked eye, including methane, benzene, butane, ethanol, and propylene.

That's not the only FLIR video available for New Mexico. In September, Earthworks filmed more than ten videos in northern New Mexico that show leaking emissions. They're all available to view on YouTube:

Gas well venting near McCoy Elementary School, Aztec, N.M.:

Gas well venting in a central Aztec neighborhood 

Venting near Aztec City Park

Emissions from ConocoPhillips San Juan Gas Plant in Bloomfield

Devil’s Spring Ranch on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in New Mexico:

Wellhead leak, venting:

Venting from two tanks:

Leaking valve box:

Venting from all three tanks: