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Doing Nothing About Climate Change: New Mexico Edition

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We will continue to do nothing as the world burns.

In the first two months of the year, the pipeline company Targa Northern Delaware vented more climate-damaging natural gas from its operations in New Mexico than all other oil and gas producers in the state combined—250% more, an amount equivalent to the carbon footprint of nearly 26,000 gasoline-powered cars driven for a year.

The state’s landmark 2021 Methane Rule banned routine venting and flaring of natural gas. But some 15 exceptions for pipeline operators allow such venting and flaring in certain circumstances, including when gas is so far out of pipeline specifications that it constitutes an “emergency,” which is what the company claimed 10 times in the first two months of the year, each time releasing millions of cubic feet of the potent greenhouse gas.

Those releases were enough to push the state’s January and February venting totals to their highest levels since the state began closely tracking venting and flaring in 2021 as part of the Methane Rule. That rule was put in place as part of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s drive to rein in greenhouse gas emissions across the state, particularly in the oil and gas industry—the state’s biggest emitter. Natural gas is mostly methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas that is 80 times more capable of trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

The January and February releases represent “the worst-case scenario,” said Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“One of the things that the rules do is state that, whenever possible, you ought to be flaring and not venting,” he said. In emergencies, flaring natural gas—burning it at its production site—is “a necessary evil” and one that has a far lower climate-warming effect than venting unburned gas into the atmosphere.

“Why wasn’t this massive amount of gas routed to a flare?” Goldstein asked. Doing so would have reduced the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions by 90%.

The 10 venting incidents account for nearly all of the gas released by Targa Northern Delaware in those months, including the largest reported single release—more than 65,000,000 cubic feet—since detailed record keeping began in June 2021. The reason given in all 10 cases was, “Gas was vented to atmosphere to purge the pipeline of off-spec residue gas.”

Pipelines have specifications for the composition of and contaminants in natural gas they accept from oil producers, and “Natural gas this out of spec can damage pipelines or pipeline components. This [is] why out of spec gas is one of the permissible emergency categories,” said Sidney Hill, public information officer with the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. In documents filed with the Oil Conservation Division, Targa Northern Delaware claims that the company repeatedly received impure gas from well operators, but it does not explain why the gas wasn’t then flared. “The OCD is further investigating the situation,” Hill said

New Mexico is highly dependent on fossil fuels for state funding so it’s hard to say how even what has become a pretty blue state is really going to crack down here in the way that needs to happen. It really takes federal leadership that is simply not going to happen.

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