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 V.25 No.51 | December 22 - 28, 2016 

Newscity

It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas

Methane rule smells surprisingly sweet

Natural Gas metering devices in urban Albuquerque
Natural Gas metering devices in urban Albuquerque
Despite last year’s economic downturn that saw falling prices, production and employment in the region, natural gas is big business in northwest New Mexico. It will play a powerful role in this state’s future economic development.

But the non-renewable fossil fuel, composed mostly of methane, may continue to be a source of atmospheric pollution for much of the area, unless a court clears the way for enactment of a new Bureau of Land Management protocol. Called the Methane Waste and Prevention Rule, the regulation aims at significantly lowering the amount of methane that producers can discharge into the atmosphere. As the BLM noted in the regional Colorado press, the intentional venting, leaking and flaring of surplus gas is a waste of resources, as well as a potential contributor to global climate change.

Producers are not currently following the rule; the same article reports that gas industry analysts say the Bureau is overstepping its authority and, besides, such draconian regulation will increase production costs, hinder future development, raise the unemployment rate and maybe even cause resurgence in the use of coal as a fuel source. Such protests have led to a federal lawsuit—initiated by gold-plated industry trade groups—designed to invalidate the rule and stop the project.

In an effort to get the court to make a decision on the matter—pre-Trump installment—progressives, activists and environmentalists from all over the nation, including New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and a couple of progressive, Santa Fe based environmental groups, have asked the court to halt the lawsuit and order the rule be enforced, a move proponents argue will have a positive economic impact on citizens as well as industry. Though the state of California has also joined in the fight, governments in the states of Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota have sided with the energy companies, essentially arguing that further regulation will stifle growth instead of promoting it.

Last week, youthful members of this state’s Pueblo culture commented publicly on the issue, writing that the rule will improve conditions on public and tribal lands, but only if combined with honest and proactive interactions with Indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, New Mexico Political report revealed the economic and environmental consequences of continued, unregulated methane emissions.

At the crux of the debate over methane emissions, the New Mexico economy looms large. Fossil fuel production, refining and distribution industries generate $11.2 billion of the state’s gross product and contribute to the state’s economy mightily in other ways, too. As of 2013, these benefits include providing revenue for 31.5 percent of New Mexico’s general fund and major financial underwriting for the Land of Enchantment’s public schools, universities and hospitals.

As last year’s economic hiccup proved, any negative change to these massive contributions to the state’s coffers by the fossil fuel industry can have tremendous effects. Both sides of this issue promise similarly sunny economic outcomes. One is based on deregulation and the subsequent reach of Smith’s invisible hand, long-term effects be damned. The other is rooted in environmental stewardship, community health and global sustainability.

On January 6, 2017, US District Judge Scott Skavdahl (a judge who previously struck down Obama administration rules on fracking) will hear oral arguments in the case, moving one step closer to determining which path energy-conscious Nuevo Mexicanos—and the rest of the nation—take as the future unfolds.

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