Right now, a threat from an invisible gas is leaking into the air from natural gas wellheads, pipelines, and compressor stations. That invisible threat is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Last month, concerned moms, citizens, health experts, and New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham discussed the health effects of methane at “New Mexico’s Air Quality, Oil and Gas Pollution, and Our Kids: What Parents Need to Know,” an Albuquerque event hosted by Moms Clean Air Force.
Methane – the primary component of natural gas – comes from many sources, such as agriculture and landfills, but natural gas operations are a major source of methane pollution, accounting for close to one third of all US emissions. Methane is released into our air from deliberate venting and flaring by the oil and gas operators, as well as leaks resulting from outdated technology and inadequate monitoring.
So much of this gas is spewing into our atmosphere from natural gas operations that last fall NASA discovered a methane “hotspot” cloud the size of Delaware over New Mexico and the Four Corners Area.
The worst part? The emissions are mostly avoidable. There are readily available technologies that can capture methane and stop wasteful leaks.
Methane pollution is bad for our climate, our health, and our pocketbooks.
Releasing methane into the atmosphere is bad for our climate because methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas pollutant. It’s driving climate change, which is a grave health threat to our children.
But climate change isn’t the only health threat from methane emissions. Methane pollution fuels the formation of ground level ozone, or smog, a powerful lung irritant that triggers asthma attacks and interferes with lung development in children. Methane also occurs together with toxic pollutants such as benzene. That means that where methane is leaking, airborne toxics usually follow, placing a heavy burden of toxic air on nearby communities.
The venting, flaring, and leaking of methane are wasteful practices, costing taxpayers millions in revenue. According to the Western Values Project, since 2009 alone, New Mexico taxpayers have lost over $42.5 million in royalty payments. That’s because the Bureau of Land Management doesn’t charge a royalty fee for methane flared or vented on federal lands. This lost revenue could have provided double the funding from the New Mexico State Land Office to public schools in 2013 and added 5,000 new students to preschool and Kindergarten programs.
At last month’s Albuquerque event, Congresswomen Grisham and the other panelists explained the health impacts of methane emissions on New Mexico’s lands and throughout the U.S.
The good news is that we can do something about it. Some companies are already using modern technology, updated practices, and responsible monitoring to stop emissions. We know it can be done. Now we need national standards to make sure everyone does it.