Kayley Shoup of Carlsbad said the worst of fossil fuel’s air pollution befell her community alongside one of the world’s busiest oilfields in the world in New Mexico’s southeast Permian Basin region.
Shoup said she worried high cancer rates and other health impacts in the area were related to emissions of methane – a greenhouse gas believed to have 84 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide in the 20 years after being released into the atmosphere.
Her comments came during an Oct. 6 meeting hosted by the Sierra Club and joined by Carlsbad environmental group Citizens Caring for the Future of which Shoup serves as spokesperson.
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The meeting came as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was expected to release new rules governing methane emissions from oil and gas operations throughout the U.S.
New Mexico activists hoped the new policy, aiming to increase air monitoring and leak detection requirements would follow their state’s recently updated guidelines and create a national standard to reduce pollution from Texas, which shares the Permian with New Mexico, that crosses state lines.
To Shoup, it’s a matter of protecting both the environment and the people who populate cities like her native Carlsbad, deep within the Permian oil and gas fields.
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Although Carlsbad and southeast New Mexico benefits economically from fossil fuel production, Shoup said the industry should be held accountable for the damage the financial growth can leave in its wake.
She said Eddy County, of which Carlsbad is the county seat, recently saw an up to 40 percent increase in people living within a half mile of oil and gas operations, a problem that could worsen as the city’s population grows and residential areas expand closer to well sites and other infrastructure.
“The constant oil and gas production has an impact on a lot of people,” Shoup said. “And with the influx in the Permian of so many new people coming to town, more and more people are getting affected by these oil and gas sites.
“As we’ve had this oil boom, we’ve had to build out our community. All of these folks are living in places where they have oil and gas right in their backyard.”
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EPA looks to crack down on nationwide pollution from oil and gas
The EPA’s rulemaking to address this issue on a federal level follows an April report from the Government Accountability Office calling for federal actions to curb the emissions.
The GAO report recommended the EPA give operators more flexibility to use available technology in detecting and fixing emission events like leaks.
“Representatives from some industry entities and stakeholders said they experienced challenges in meeting EPA’s requirements, including that site-specific applications are time- and resource-intensive,” read the GAO report.
“Without greater flexibility in the process for approving alternative technologies, EPA may hinder the adoption of innovative approaches for detecting and reducing methane emissions. “
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The report also suggested the Bureau of Land Management consider requiring gas capture plans for operations on federal lands similar to those required at the state level like New Mexico’s.
“Selected states have regulations to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas development that exceed BLM’s requirements,” the report read. “Without taking steps to require gas capture during production, BLM is potentially forgoing revenue from wasted gas, which contributes to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Joan Brown with New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based environmental group said the group conducted frequent field studies over the past decade in the Permian, finding continual growth in operations and thus, Brown said, associated air pollution.
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“We do this because it’s the ethical, moral thing to do,” she said. “We’ve heard about people dying of cancer. We have smelled the impacts. We pray for healing and wisdom. This hurts all of our hearts. It’s about love – loving God’s creation.”
Director of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter Camilla Feibelman said while states like New Mexico have taken some action, the federal government must do so also to truly address the problem on a national scale.
EPA rules should require regulation leak detection and repair for even low-producing or “stripper” wells, Feibelman said, while also providing better reporting opportunities for local community members and increasing requirements for oil and gas facilities near residential areas.
“As we think about oil and gas operations and what those ought to look like, there’s a lot that methane rules from the EPA could be doing, and a lot our local state rules can be doing,” she said. “We’ve all been working to make sure those are the strongest, most powerful rules possible to protect members of our New Mexico community.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.