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In this KUNM series, reporter Laura Paskus explores natural gas drilling and the burgeoning oil industry in northwestern New Mexico--its benefits, impacts, and future. Funding provided by the New Venture Fund.

EPA Announces New Methane Rules

Image of methane emissions in the US. A methane "hot spot" can be seen in red over the Four Corners area.

Wednesday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a new set of rules aimed at reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, as part of an effort by the Obama Administration to cut methane emissions 45 percent by 2025.

Under the new rules, oil and gas operators will have to install equipment to catch and monitor methane leaks where oil and gas is produced, stored and transported.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but it’s not hazardous to breathe. Still, environmental groups, and some residents near oil and gas wells, are saying the rules will have a health benefit for people living near drilling sites.

"Methane is not the only thing that comes out of the ground," said SugMcNall an Aztec resident who says she's been impacted by air pollution from oil and gas wells. "There’s hydrogen sulfide, benzene, toxics, carcinogens—that’s all with the methane."

McNall and others hope cutting down on methane leaks will also reduce leaks of those other hazardous chemicals.

The rules will only apply to new oil and gas wells, but the EPA is currently working on another set of regulations for existing wells.

Oil and Gas representatives have criticized the measure, saying the industry is already reducing methane emissions without federal regulations.

Ed Williams came to KUNM in 2014 by way of Carbondale, Colorado, where he worked as a public radio reporter covering environmental issues. Originally from Austin, Texas, Ed has reported on environmental, social justice, immigration and Native American issues in the U.S. and Latin America for the Austin American-Statesman, Z Magazine, NPR’s Latino USA and others. In his spare time, look for Ed riding his mountain bike in the Sandias or sparring on the jiu-jitsu mat.
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