ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL: Health Hazards of Methane Necessitate Rule

By: Pastor Richard Mansfield 

I would like to issue our elected officials a challenge — let’s stop treating the health of Americans and the quality of our natural environment as partisan challenges and instead embrace them as moral obligations.

New Mexico is a state with a wide variety of natural resources, but we need to acknowledge that we are facing a serious problem with natural gas waste. Methane is a colorless, odorless and invisible component of natural gas, which is released into the air through oil and gas industry practices such as venting and burning off through flaring or simply through loss caused by leaky equipment. Methane isn’t harmless – it can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks, worsen respiratory conditions and cause cancer.

More troubling is that significant levels of these emissions are being generated in operations conducted on our public and tribal lands every day. In 2014, NASA announced it had found a methane “hot-spot” the size of Delaware hovering over the Four Corners region – where the boundaries of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado all meet. NASA also determined that methane waste from oil and gas operations are major contributors to the methane plume, that only 10 percent of the methane sources contribute half of all emissions and that leaking storage tanks and pipelines are major culprits of emissions. 

Numerous studies have shown that Latinos face disproportionate health hazards largely due to poor environmental health – they are more likely to live in areas affected by pollution and more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups. These health burdens can lead to economic burdens by an increase of days of missed work and school due to sickness and asthma attacks.

There is no excuse; we have a responsibility to ensure that air quality does not harm our children and communities. We need to hold developers accountable with common-sense rules so they do not damage the air we breathe, the water we rely on and the land we all own.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule seeks to reduce the wasteful release of natural gas into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands. Yet the rule has been a subjected to partisan politics and is now being targeting by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has proposed changes that would strip away the standard set forth by the rule.

The process used in creating this rule was democratic, as it was shaped by the input of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Community and faith leaders from Por la Creación Faith-based Alliance (PLC) attended public meetings, wrote letters in support and provided testimony about the positive effects the rule would have on our communities. We were assured that our voices and concerns were taken into account. But the BLM rule is once again at (risk) of being modified or rolled back – this time though without a single public hearing.

This month PLC signed a letter, along with 15 other Latino organizations, asking the BLM to not gut this important rule. This letter was also submitted as part of the BLM’s comment collection period. Our comment, like an overwhelming majority of those submitted, is in favor of keeping the existing rule strong and in place. If the rule is modified allowing oil and gas companies to continue to wasting our public resources and endangering our public health, the message would be clear – the special interests from the oil and gas industry are placed squarely ahead of our communities, families and children.

The land, air and water are part of New Mexico’s cherished outdoor heritage. Let’s pause the partisanship and fulfill our moral obligation to protect it.

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