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The climate crisis is ravaging New Mexico, leading to more severe droughts and water shortages.

Yet rather than ramp down fossil fuel production and rein in greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis, New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is instead looking to dump toxic oil and gas industry wastewater into streams, drinking waters, and on crops.

Claiming it would be “good for New Mexico,” the Governor’s new policy push is an extremely dangerous approach to regulating the fossil fuel industry and stands to leave New Mexico’s diminishing water supplies poisoned and unusable.

Worse, it only stands to compound the very climate crisis threatening New Mexico’s water in the first place.

With the Governor recently proclaiming that her environmental regulators work for industry, New Mexicans should be very worried.

A Frackwater Disaster

Driven by the boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, oil and gas extraction is surging in New Mexico.  The production of oil and gas leads to the creation of massive amounts of wastewater. Not only do companies produce wastewater in hydraulic fracturing, but they extract water from the deep geologic formations they’re tapping for oil and gas.

In southeast New Mexico, the amount of water used for fracking increased by more than 700% between 2011 and 2016. Recent estimates indicate the amount of fracking wastewater produced in the region will double in the coming years.

This water (often called “produced water”) is too toxic to treat.  It contains contaminants that can’t be removed, including radioactive materials, heavy metals, and extreme salts. Environmental regulations require industry to dispose of this wastewater deep underground to ensure it never reaches the surface. Even then, this disposal method has not been proven to be safe.

As oil and gas extraction has boomed in New Mexico, the oil and gas industry has faced rising costs and difficulties in disposing its wastewater.

Rather than slow or even stop production, industry has convinced Michelle Lujan Grisham Administration to simply reclassify their frackwater as “not toxic.” The industry’s strategy is to re-label their waste so they can more cheaply dump it into rivers, onto crops, and into drinking water supplies.

In 2019, the New Mexico Legislature, at the urging of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, passed a law that allows (but does not mandate) that fracking wastewater to be regulated.

This law has set the stage for the dumping of the oil and gas industry’s toxic waste into New Mexico’s water supplies. The State is now moving to adopt rules that would “regulate” oil and gas industry wastewater.

The aim of these new regulations? To condone the dumping of toxic fracking wastewater into water supplies.

Sadly, New Mexico’s Governor is fully throwing her support behind these plans.

New Regulations Portend a Public Health Scam

New Mexico is now moving to adopt rules that officials claim will “regulate” the oil and gas industry’s fracking wastewater.

In a series of public meetings scheduled this month and next, the state intends to solicit public input on the issue of using fracking industry wastewater “outside the oil and gas industry.” 

These public meetings and this process are nothing more than a front to justify dumping toxic oil and gas industry waste into New Mexico’s rivers and water supplies.

In fact, with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham proclaiming this week that she has told her environmental regulators that they work for the oil and gas industry, it seems clear that new regulations are a scheme to justify rolling back public health safeguards.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham needs to hear from you! Photo by Susan Montoya Bryan/AP.

Meetings are scheduled in October and November in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Carlsbad, Farmington, and Las Cruces. It’s critical that the public show up and oppose any regulation of fracking industry wastewater. 

The oil and gas industry’s toxic waste should not be regulated, it should be prohibited.  For New Mexico’s health, environment, and safety, we can’t let fracking wastewater be dumped into streams, drinking water supplies or on crops.

The oil and gas industry in New Mexico is trashing the climate right now. The surge in fracking, especially in the Greater Carlsbad Region of southeast New Mexico, is fueling a massive increase in climate pollution.

With the climate crisis impacting New Mexico more than most other states, the last thing the state needs is more oil and gas extraction.

As the youth of New Mexico have said, right now, New Mexico needs transition.

The fracking industry’s waste is too toxic to be treated. It needs to be banned, not condoned. We need to send the message to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham that prohibition, not regulation, is key to safeguarding the climate in New Mexico.

Contact the Governor today and tell her to back down from plans to dump toxic oil and gas wastewater into New Mexico’s streams, drinking water supplies, and on crops.

Tell Michelle Lujan Grisham that for New Mexico’s health, safety, and future, the state needs to transition from fossil fuels.

Last week, we filed a new lawsuit to defend our public lands and climate from fracking. Despite court win in March, the Trump Administration is continuing to sidestep the law, do everything it can to sell off our lands to the oil and gas industry.

Thankfully, we’re pushing back. Read our latest Twitter thread for more background:

In case you didn’t know, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program does a lot of tweeting at the handle @ClimateWest. We often post threads on Twitter, which are a series of tweets that help us tell more robust stories. We thought we’d try to convert some of our threads to blog posts so folks who aren’t on Twitter (or just aren’t keen on Twitter) can also have a chance to read and enjoy.

With that said, enjoy our first of what are likely to be many Twitter threads transformed into what we hope are even more insightful blog posts. And if you’re into Twitter, be sure to follow us @ClimateWest. Scroll down to read more!

It’s been an amazing week of youth-led global climate strike actions!

Here in the American West, the scenes have been the same: people are overwhelmingly turning out to demand CLIMATE ACTION NOW!

In New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and across the country, incredible youth-led climate strike actions have unfolded over the past week.

In Denver, the scene was full of energy and inspiration as thousands took to downtown streets to demand Colorado Governor Jared Polis support the Green New Deal and a full transition from fossil fuels.

The climate strikes are far from over and in Colorado, this past week of action is culminating with a huge event tomorrow in the community Broomfield, where we expect to join many others in calling for an end to fracking.

Broomfield has been under siege by the oil and gas industry, with rigs and fracking operations encroaching into peoples’ backyards and open spaces. Together with local residents, we’ve teamed up to try to block the industry and defend the community. Unfortunately, Colorado’s oil and gas industry is relentlessly pushing to frack communities.

Tomorrow, we’ll be standing up with countless others to demand that we Stop Fracking Our Future!

Join us if you can, RSVP here or click below >>

In case you missed, WildEarth Guardians is hiring a Colorado Front Range grassroots organizer to help us advance climate action and protect wildlife!

Background information and instructions on submitting applications  is available here >>

The position would be temporary and part-time, but with a high potential for becoming full-time and more permanent. The organizer would help us rally Coloradans behind tougher rules to rein in the oil and gas industry’s air pollution, as well as help advance new policies and legislation to better protect Colorado’s irreplaceable wildlife.

This is an amazing opportunity for anyone looking to launch a career in environmental activism and anyone looking to work with an organization that is truly on the frontlines of advancing effective climate progress and wildlife conservation in the American West.

Apply today!

WildEarth Guardians today put Suncor Energy on notice that it intends to file suit against the company over thousands of clean air violations at the company’s oil refinery in the Denver Metro Area.

Every year, Suncor’s refinery spews out more than 900,000 tons of toxic air pollution, including benzene, hydrogen cyanide, lead, hydrogen sulfide, and methane.

The refinery is also a major contributor to the Denver Metro Area’s brown cloud and summertime ground-level ozone problem. In 2019, high ozone levels were recorded throughout the Denver Metro Area.

The company’s own monitoring reports show the refinery violated its pollution limits at least 2,750 times between December 31, 2018 and June 30, 2019. The violations come amid growing controversy over the refinery and calls for it to shut down.

“The Suncor oil refinery is a clean air disaster, putting public health in the Denver Metro Area at extreme risk,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “We’ve had enough of the company’s blatant and ongoing air quality violations, it’s time to clean up this dirty refinery once and for all.”

Read the press release.

I recently asked a friend “what one thing defines Guardians?”  His immediate answer was this –  “you make people uncomfortable. “ I didn’t like that answer. I want to inspire. I want to energize. I want to activate. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable.

Then I realized… he’s right.  We do make people uncomfortable.  And that’s okay.  In fact, it’s a good thing.  And here’s why.

In a world full of suffering and injustice being comfortable is probably a vice.  Why should anyone be comfortable when so many beings, human and otherwise, are so very, very uncomfortable?  I could spend the entire evening listing them… the Joshua tree, the gray wolf, the spotted owl….or people, whether in poverty, in prison or in war-torn countries.

Still, it’s only natural to seek out comfortable positions.  Whether you’re talking about a comfy chair or a comfy political opinion. One of the most comfortable, and troubling, political opinions is that most things are either/or. Either you’re critical of our country or you’re patriotic.  Either you’re for economic growth or you’re for the environment.

I’ve been fighting that last one for years.  The truth is, the key to robust economic growth is investing in clean energy, but I assume most of you here tonight already know that.  What you may not know, is that New Mexico is the Saudi Arabia of the United States.  In fact, the bulk of New Mexico’s state funding depends on oil and gas revenues collected from the Permian basin—which is in southeastern NM and west Texas.

You may have read that New Mexico is expecting a billion dollars more than originally projected in next years’ budget, almost all of it from the Permian.  The governor wants to invest that money in early childhood education—and, just this week, free college tuition.  Which is great.  But… our dependence on oil and gas, our addiction to that toxic industry, makes me very uncomfortable.

As the executive director of WildEarth Guardians, it’s my charge to protect the environment.  And so, Guardians will be leading a bold campaign to bring an end to the era of fossil fuel extraction in the Permian.  And we’re starting by calling for a moratorium on further fracking on our public lands.

When I first thought about this campaign, I didn’t think about the programs that would be affected if we win.  I thought then, and I still think now, it won’t matter what programs children have if our planet is unlivable.

Then I thought something else — something that made me even more uncomfortable.  I have financial resources.  My kids are gonna get a great education, regardless of what programs might be affected by our campaign.  As my friend would say, I don’t have skin in the game.

But that’s where my friend would be wrong.  The thing is, I do have skin in the game.

I don’t work to protect the environment because I have a tree fetish, I work to protect the environment because I care passionately about protecting the vulnerable – whether it’s a tree, a salamander or a child — anybody’s child.

I’ve said this before, in other speeches, and I’ll say it again in the future – the fundamental political struggle throughout history is a struggle between two ideas…  should the powerful be protected from the vulnerable or should the vulnerable be protected from the powerful?  Obviously, I chose to protect the vulnerable – all the vulnerable.  I may focus on the environment in my work, but my heart is with the underdog everywhere.

I resent having to choose between two futures – one where every kid has access to early childhood education but the planet dies or one with a healthy planet and disadvantaged kids don’t have the opportunities they deserve.

Returning to the Permian.  When news broke of this financial windfall, progressive politicians were ecstatic.  I didn’t read anything even remotely balanced, like “this extra money is great, but at what cost?”  or “there’s lots of good things we could spend this money on, but I’m concerned about our contribution to the climate crisis.”  It was just, “extra money, whoo-hoo!”

You know who I really want to make uncomfortable… New Mexico’s politicians. Laziness and a lack of imagination has put us in this situation.  You can’t blame a teenager for doing bong hits all day and living off his parent’s trust fund.  But we cannot accept politicians who have lived off oil and gas money for decades without doing the hard work of nurturing new sources of revenue.  Yes, there’s been some good work done – but even if New Mexico becomes 100% renewable, we’d still have one of the largest carbon footprints of any state in the country.  Revenue from the Permian creates a comfort zone that deprives us of the motivation to seek out other sources of financing.  But the blame does not rest on politicians alone.  Their inaction isn’t possible without our apathy.  We have to hold both politicians and ourselves accountable for continuing this toxic addiction.

So let me share just a few facts about the Permian…

The Permian is now the largest oil field in the world, eclipsing those in Saudi Arabia – nearly one third of United States crude oil comes from the region.

As of this month, there were nearly 35,000 active wells in the NM portion of the Permian.

The BLM predicts over 16,000 more in the next 20 years.

Carbon emissions from the Permian could eat up more than 10 percent of the global carbon budget.  That’s the global carbon budget.

Now some facts about our kids…

New Mexico has the highest rates of childhood hunger and food insecurity in the nation

75 percent or more of New Mexico fourth graders are NOT proficient in reading or math.

Nearly a third of our high school students don’t graduate on time.

And, worst of all, one in four of New Mexico’s kids live in poverty.

Clearly, we’re letting our kids down.  But, thankfully, they’re not letting us down.

Today is a day of Global climate action, inspired by Greta Thunberg the 16 year-old from Sweden.  Millions of people walked out of their schools and workplaces to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.  Their motto, which we should have thought of a long time ago, is  – “Our house is on fire, let’s act like it.”

I’m inspired by these young people – but I also feel ashamed.  We’re the grown-ups – we should be inspiring them.  If your house is on fire, you act quickly and with a sense of urgency.  You don’t schedule some convenient time to put the fire out, you just put it out—god damn it.

In the course of writing this speech, I have been compelled to take a long look at my own life….and I’m not doing enough—not by a long shot.

For example, I don’t drive an electric car.  I could, but I don’t.  It’s just that somewhere along the way, I don’t really remember when, I told myself, “I don’t want an electric car. But it’s ok because I ‘m fighting for change on a larger scale.”

But it’s not okay.  I can’t compartmentalize – we can’t compartmentalize anymore.

I don’t ask myself, every time I get on a plane, “is this trip absolutely necessary?”  “Do I absolutely need to go to Denver to meet with staff when I could do a video call?”  I’ve also heard about a personal carbon budget, but I dismissed the idea.  My thinking was, “it won’t really make a difference.”  The thing is it would make a difference.  I just didn’t want to do it.

So that’s my hypocrisy. What’s yours?

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer believed at our core people are not rationale. He wrote something profound, something that bears directly on what I’m talking about. He wrote: “We do not want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we find reasons for it because we want it.”  Put another way we cloak our desires in rationalizations. I’m done rationalizing.

I’m sure everyone in this room thinks what we want is to end the climate crisis. But do we want it enough?  Do we want it more than the thousand little things that make our lives …. Comfortable?  Do we want it enough to make a personal sacrifice?  By really examining the distinction between what we want and what we need.

For my own part I am going to demand of lot more of myself.  And I’m going to ask the same of you.

Sacrificing things you like may sound as if I’m asking a lot — but the truth it’s really the bare minimum. In fact, that’s not all I’m asking.  I’m not only asking you to make personal change I also want you to join Guardians to create political change. Stand up, speak out, and, most importantly, show up.

I know if you do what I’m asking you’re definitely going to be uncomfortable. And that’s not a bad thing.

As I said at the beginning I didn’t like the idea that Guardians makes people uncomfortable. You know what, now I love it.  I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s because nothing great ever gets accomplished without people being uncomfortable. It’s the necessary condition for any transformative change. And for 30 years Guardians has been all about transformative change. And nothing short of transformative change is going to save the planet.

So let’s all grab a bucket. And let’s put this fire out.

Despite a Denver Post exposé and worsening smog pollution in the Denver Metro Area, the oil and gas industry continues to frack in Colorado before obtaining legally required air pollution permits.

And while WildEarth Guardians is pushing back to put an end to this illegal practice, sadly, state air regulators are continuing to turn their backs on the problem, letting the fracking industry trounce Colorado’s clean air.

Worse, they’re turning their backs on the problem even as Colorado Governor Jared Polis is calling for tighter regulation of oil and gas companies and “aggressively” moving forward to curtail smog in the Denver Metro Area.

The 90-day Loophole

In case you missed the news last April, oil and gas companies are abusing a regulatory loophole in Colorado, constructing and operating massive production facilities before obtaining permits that actually limit harmful emissions.

Referred to as the “90-day loophole,” Colorado’s regulations actually allow companies to avoid submitting applications for legally required air pollution permits at oil and gas well sites for up to 90 days after beginning production.

The loophole effectively allows companies to avoid obtaining permits for months, sometimes even years, after drilling wells, fracking, and beginning to produce oil and gas.

As the Denver Post reported, hundreds of oil and gas well facilities are now operating in Colorado without permits. With no permits, there’s no assurance that companies are controlling their toxic emissions.

For people and communities near these oil and gas well sites, no permits means no ability to ensure companies are limiting harmful pollution. That means no ability to ensure companies are fully protecting public health and the environment.

In the words of Berthoud, Colorado resident Stephanie Nilsen, who lives next to Extraction Oil and Gas’s Trott facility, which is currently producing oil and gas from 18 wells without a permit, “It is just unfair. Air quality? They screwed me.”

The Denver Post’s front page story on April 7, 2019.

Industry Abusing Loophole

The thing is, while there is a loophole in Colorado’s air quality regulations, it only applies to small sources of emissions.

In the Denver Metro Area, which is designated a “nonattainment area” because of violations of federal health limits on ground-level ozone (i.e., the key ingredient of smog), a small source is any facility with the potential to release less than 100 tons of smog forming volatile organic compound emissions.

If an oil and gas production facility has the potential to release more than 100 tons of volatile organic compounds, then that source is considered a “major source” and subject to stringent permitting requirements.

A major source permit requires companies meet very stringent emission limits, offset emissions to achieve a net reduction in pollution, and comply with other strict provisions. Put another way, a major source permit ensures companies achieve the highest level of clean air protection.

More importantly, if an oil and gas production facility is a major source, Colorado’s regulations don’t allow companies to use the 90-day loophole. Instead, if a facility is a major source, companies must obtain a major source permit before even beginning construction.

Unfortunately, oil and gas companies in Colorado have acted as if the 90-day loophole is a free pass to pollute for any production facility, no matter the level of emissions.

Even as fracking has boomed in the Denver Metro Area and pushed ground-level ozone to dangerous highs, industry asserts major sources of emissions don’t have to obtain permits before beginning construction and production.

They’ve gone so far as to argue the 90-day loophole provides an absolute exemption to major source permitting.

Colorado Regulator Complicity

Industry’s arguments are flat out wrong. Unfortunately, regulators with the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division have refused to push back and have even gone along with industry’s abuse of the 90-day loophole.

Over the years, they’ve looked the other way and allowed hundreds of oil and gas production facilities that are major sources of air pollution to avoid obtaining major source permits.

This Crestone Peak oil and gas well production facility near Erie, Colorado is currently operating without legally required air pollution permits.

In doing so, they’ve foreclosed opportunities to reduce emissions and hold the fracking industry accountable to the best clean air standards.

Even in the Denver Metro Area, where emission cuts are critical for curbing the region’s smog, the Air Division has refused to enforce major source permitting requirements when it comes to fracking.

Coupled with ineffective regulations and seeming collusion with the oil and gas industry, it’s no wonder the region’s pollution woes are only worsening. This past spring, the American Lung Association reported that Denver’s ground-level ozone pollution is on the rise.

Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases. When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.

– JoAnna Strother, Director of Advocacy, American Lung Association in Colorado

And even though earlier this year, the Air Pollution Control Division indicated it planned to investigate “if the (state’s) regulatory structure complies with the technical requirements of the Clean Air Act,” there’s seemingly been no changes to date.

In fact, the Air Division appears to be moving more aggressively than ever to let the oil and gas industry off the hook when it comes to major source permitting.

Right now, the Division is proposing to approve around 30 new air pollution permits for oil and gas production facilities that would let companies avoid major source permitting. Most of these facilities are located in the Denver Metro Area.

Just some of the air pollution permits proposed for approval by the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division that would allow oil and gas companies avoid major source permitting.

Under the proposed permits, companies like Noble Energy and Extraction Oil and Gas would be allowed to avoid major source permitting, even though the companies have already built major sources and started producing oil and gas.

WildEarth Guardians has opposed the Air Division’s proposed permits. In comments submitted last Friday, we objected to permits allowing Extraction Oil and Gas, Noble Energy, SRC Energy, and other companies to avoid major source permitting requirements.

That the Division has proposed to approve these permits seems a clear indication that industry’s abuse of the 90-day loophole remains condoned by regulators.

New Hope or Business as Usual?

To be certain, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has ushered in a new era of oil and gas regulation that prioritizes public health and the environment. In April, he signed Senate Bill 19-181 into law, which directs Colorado air regulators to adopt new rules limiting harmful emissions from fracking operations.

However, the Air Pollution Control Division seems to be moving slowly and uncertainly, at best, to meet Senate Bill 181’s mandate.

It was only last Friday, July 5, that the Air Division announced its first public meeting regarding a “Potential Fall 2019 Air Quality Rulemaking.”

That meeting isn’t scheduled to take place until July 29. And while the Division is asking for public comment, it’s unclear exactly what the public is commenting on at this point.

In May, WildEarth Guardians, together with partners at Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, and Mothers Out Front, submitted concrete expectations for new rules under Senate Bill 181.

Among other things, we called on the Division to eliminate the 90-day loophole, adopt an aggressive oil and gas industry emission offset program, and hold fracking companies accountable to the most stringent of air pollution controls. We have yet to receive a response to this letter.

However, given the lack of substance and clarity so far around the process, there’s reason to be concerned the Air Division may not be on track to meet these basic expectations.

Most importantly, with the Division continuing allowing oil and gas companies to avoid major source permitting, there’s reason to be concerned clean air is taking a backseat to the fracking industry in Colorado.

In the Denver Metro Area, we estimate there are currently over 50 fracking facilities operating without legally required major source permits.

The map below shows where these facilities are located. The bigger the circle, the higher the level of volatile organic compound emissions. Zoom in or click to see a larger version of the map to learn more.

 

In spite of this, the Air Division is letting the companies behind these facilities avoid major source permitting.

Instead, they’re obtaining weaker permits that don’t ensure stringent pollution controls, don’t offset emissions, and don’t achieve the high level of clean air protection required for major sources.

For the Denver Metro Area, this means more smog pollution and more danger to public health. This certainly is not the “aggressive” clean air action that Governor Polis intended.

We Need a Change

As part of our Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement Initiative, we’re taking aim at industry’s illegal abuse of the 90-day loophole.

In a Clean Air Act citizen enforcement lawsuit filed in May, we targeted seven companies, including Extraction Oil and Gas, Noble Energy, Crestone Peak Resources, and others for violating Colorado clean air laws by failing to obtain legally required major source permits.

This federal case is unprecedented in the American West. Never before has a citizen suit been filed against the oil and gas industry in this region. However, never before have we faced such a widespread failure of the fracking industry to comply with our clean air laws.

While our legal case promises to secure the accountability we need for our clean air and health, the reality is, we need Colorado regulators on board with safeguarding air quality in Denver and beyond.

We know the Governor genuinely wants to see clean air restored in Colorado. Citing “outrage” over delay, earlier this year, he stepped up to keep the Denver Metro Area’s smog clean up on track. In statements, he’s made abundantly clear his support for bold action to reduce air pollution and protect public health.

We have to do everything in our power right here at home to make our air cleaner and our people healthier as soon as we possibly can.

– Colorado Governor Jared Polis

With the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division continuing to let industry abuse the 90-day loophole, it’s urgent the Governor step up to set things right.

That’s why we’ve reached out to our members and supporters to stand with us in calling on Governor Polis to ensure clean air and health comes first in Colorado. Hundreds of Coloradans have so far signed the petition, which we intend to deliver to the Governor next week.

But the Governor also needs to hear directly from Coloradans. Call him or send an e-mail today, click here for contact information >>

So long as the oil and gas industry is allowed to abuse the 90-day loophole and pollute without permits, clean air and public health will suffer in Colorado. It’s up to the Governor to change this and give Coloradans the breath of fresh air they deserve.

While New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham supports bold climate action, her focus on methane and her seeming unwillingness so far to tackle the oil and gas industry’s full greenhouse gas footprint threatens to derail any and all success in reducing carbon emissions.

This climate blindspot has been highlighted before. While the Governor has trumpeted policies to curtail carbon and promote renewable energy, advocates have pointed out that New Mexico’s surge in oil and gas production–and the greenhouse gases resulting from the consumption of these fossil fuels–ultimately stands to erase all gains for the climate.

With New Mexico facing record levels of oil production and soaring rates of natural gas production, this blindspot stands to seriously hobble the state’s climate progress.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

Cutting Methane Won’t Cut It

To date, Michelle Lujan Grisham’s solutions have focused on targeting only production-related emissions, and even then only methane. Earlier this year, she signed an Executive Order calling for rules to limit methane.

True to form, last week the state kicked off a stakeholder process to start drafting these rules, although the timing of their development and implementation is completely up in the air.

It’s well-meaning. After all, methane is a potent greenhouse gas with up to 86 times the heat-trapping capability of carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, the reality is that reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production in New Mexico will make absolutely no difference for the climate.

Let me say that again just so you know exactly where WildEarth Guardians stands: 

REDUCING METHANE EMISSIONS FROM OIL AND GAS IN NEW MEXICO WILL MAKE ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE FOR THE CLIMATE.

That’s because what really matters are the end-use carbon emissions related to production. In other words, it’s the ultimate processing and burning of oil and gas, i.e., the consumption, that matters, not methane. The numbers confirm this, and then some.

We calculated total carbon associated with oil and gas produced in New Mexico in 2018. Its off the charts. Using end-use emission factors developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we estimated that production led to the release of more than 189 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, 189 million metric tons of carbon equals the amount released by 48.5 coal-fired power plants in a single year.

This figure was calculated using New Mexico Oil Conservation Division oil and gas production data, then multiplying this by the Environmental Protection Agency’s factors of 0.43 metric tons of carbon dioxide for every barrel of oil produced and 0.0551 metric tons of carbon dioxide for every thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of natural gas produced.

The chart below sums it up. Without a doubt, oil and gas production in New Mexico leads to a massive carbon footprint. And this is just for 2018!

New Mexico Oil and Gas Production in 2018 and End-Use Carbon Dioxide Emissions

No Comparison

To put this into perspective, we compared emissions most recently reported by the Environmental Protection Agency for New Mexico. There’s truly no comparison.

While end-use carbon emissions related to oil and gas production amounted to more than 189 million metric tons, total methane emissions from production amounted to, at most, a little more 629,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

[NOTE:  The Environmental Protection Agency reported 182,946 metric tons of carbon equivalent for methane from oil and gas production, but this figure is based on an assumption that the gas is only 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Using the more recent finding that methane is actually 86 times more potent, total emissions are closer to 629,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.]

This means that methane emissions from oil and gas represent 0.3% of the industry’s total climate footprint.

Importantly, most recent reports indicate that coal and natural gas-fired power plants in New Mexico emitted a total of only 24,000,000 metric tons of carbon.

That means oil and gas production in New Mexico was ultimately responsible for nearly 10 times as much carbon pollution as the state’s power plants.

As the chart below shows, carbon emissions resulting from the consumption of oil and gas in New Mexico dwarf oil and gas industry methane emissions and power plant carbon emissions. Methane emissions barely register on this chart (we had to cut the end-use carbon emissions bar down just so methane emissions could barely register).

A Burning Disaster

Put another way, even if New Mexico went 100% renewable and even if the state completely zeroed out oil and gas industry methane emissions, the state would still be the source of as much carbon pollution as nearly 50 coal-fired power plants.

With oil and gas production on the rise in the state, this underscores that cutting methane emissions won’t lead to any meaningful climate progress.

In fact, major drillers in New Mexico, including the notorious companies Chevron and Exxon, have indicated they intend to ramp up production to nearly two million barrels of oil per day in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico and west Texas.

And what are these companies doing to reduce their methane emissions in the meantime? Burning through flaring. In fact, reports indicate more flaring is happening in New Mexico than ever before.

This just underscores the absurdity of focusing on methane as any kind of a climate solution.

Because while burning methane turns the gas to carbon dioxide and reduces its heat trapping capacity, it still has a climate impact. With flaring ramping up in New Mexico, it highlights that reducing methane emissions is simply shifting the problem and not actually solving it.

Flaring at oil and gas well site in southeast New Mexico

Keep it in the Ground

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham talks the talk on climate, but talk is cheap. If she doesn’t get serious about confronting the full carbon footprint of the oil and gas industry, her climate blindspot, then it’s clear that she’s not willing to walk the walk.

If that’s the case, she may as well be in climate denial.

“This is a state that is not in climate denial. We are clear that we have basically a decade to begin to turn things around and New Mexico needs [to] and will do its part.”

– New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

New Mexico and New Mexicans need real climate action, not rhetoric, not empty messaging, and certainly not empirically baseless solutions that actually promote more oil and gas production and consumption.

In this case, the solution is clear: New Mexico needs to start clamping down on new oil and gas development and get on track to ultimately keep fossil fuels in the ground.

While this seems extreme, in truth, it’s the most common sense and reasonable solution at hand. After all, the climate crisis is already ravaging New Mexico and portends even more harms to the state’s water supplies, public health, clean air, infrastructure, and ecosystems.

Although the booming oil and gas industry may generate revenue today, our planet–and particularly the State of New Mexico–will be paying a heavy cost tomorrow.

If New Mexico’s Governor continues to coddle the oil and gas industry and deny the true costs of the climate crisis, then she will fail miserably in delivering on any meaningful climate progress.

For a safe, healthy climate and for real economic prosperity, it’s time for Michelle Lujan Grisham to mind her climate blindspot and acknowledge the need to start keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Earlier this year, WildEarth Guardians launched its Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement Initiative, a campaign to defend communities and our climate from fracking in and around the Denver Metro Area.

The campaign has been in high gear since February and this month, we kicked it into overdrive.

In a groundbreaking lawsuit filed in federal court on May 3, we challenged seven oil and gas companies over ongoing clean air violations at 15 production facilities, all of which are located in Weld County north of Denver.

To our knowledge, it’s the first citizen suit under the Clean Air Act ever filed against the oil and gas industry in the Rocky Mountain West. And it promises big results for clean air and the climate.

The lead outlaw in the case includes Extraction Oil and Gas, a notorious fracking company that has rankled Front Range communities for its residential drilling practices.

The company is developing more than 80 oil and gas wells and related infrastructure in the City and County of Broomfield, a move that has drawn intense local condemnation and legal action by WildEarth Guardians.

Extraction Oil and Gas has begun construction of massive oil and gas facilities in the community of Broomfield, Colorado. Photo by Laurie Anderson.

Other lawbreakers include Noble Energy, Crestone Peak Resources, Great Western Oil and Gas, PDC Energy, Bonanza Creek Energy, and Mallard Exploration.

The suit takes on the fracking industry’s abuse of a loophole in Colorado’s clean air regulations.

That loophole allows small oil and gas production facilities to avoid submitting pollution permit applications for up to 90 days after first beginning production.

Unfortunately, over the years the oil and gas industry has expanded the loophole and argued that it also applies to the largest production facilities. Sadly, under former Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper, an ardent supporter of the oil and gas industry who once drank fracking fluid to underscore his allegiance , that argument gained traction.

Now industry routinely constructs massive multi-well fracking facilities that have the potential to emit thousands of tons of toxic air pollution without ever obtaining permits. In some cases, companies may operate well sites for years without ever having a permit in hand.

We’ve mapped out at least 50 oil and gas facilities in the Denver Metro Area that aren’t subject to the 90-day loophole, yet are currently spewing out massive amounts of unchecked air pollution with out a permit. Check out the map, which we’re still building out, here >>

Extraction’s Kennedy Oil and Gas Facility near the town of Berthoud, Colorado has been operating since September 18, 2018 without an air pollution permit.

Not only does this practice fly in the face of our state and federal clean air laws, it’s increasingly putting the health of Front Range communities at risk.

And it underscores that, despite popular rhetoric, Colorado doesn’t really have the strongest oil and gas air quality rules in the nation.

In fact, the 90-day loophole, coupled with a complete lack of effective inspections and completely toothless enforcement, has basically created an environment where the oil and gas industry can pollute as much as it wants, when it wants, wherever it wants, and with no consequences.

As a former inspector for the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division put it:

It’s cheating, plain and simple.

– Former Colorado Air Pollution Control Division Inspector, Jeremy Murtaugh

We aim to change that.

Leveraging the citizen suit provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, we’re exercising our right to enforce violations of our clean air laws and secure long overdue accountability that is long overdue. That includes seeking maximum penalties, which we estimate likely exceed $1 billion.

Given that, by our estimate, the companies enjoyed economic benefits of more than $400 million, this is a more than appropriate deterrent.

And our track record of success on Clean Air Act enforcement cases gives us reason to believe we’ll win this case, too.

Over the years, we’ve won every Clean Air Act enforcement case we’ve brought, either by securing a successful court ruling, settling on favorable terms, or compelling polluter to do the right thing.

Our Clean Air Act enforcement cases have shut down coal-fired power plants, forced power plants to meet stringent air toxic limits, and secured resources for energy efficiency and renewable projects in low income communities as coal-fired power plants retire.

As for as our Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement initiative, we’re not just suing industry head on, we’re also challenging illegal permits, including several recent permits proposed for ConocoPhillips, Noble Energy, Crestone Peak Resources, and other companies.

Crestone Peak Resources oil and gas well site near Erie, Colorado.

Crestone is currently under fire for proposing to develop dozens of new oil and gas wells in and around Erie, Colorado.

We’re also continuing to challenge federal fracking approvals. In a letter last week, we pushed back against U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to auction off lands for fracking near Brighton, Colorado.

All told, these sales of lands by the Bureau could open the door for 500 new oil and gas wells in the region.

Finally, we’re also weighing in to ensure that new rules adopted under recently enacted Senate Bill 181 ensure the fracking industry is held to the highest standards of accountability when it comes to clean air and public health.

Senate Bill 181, which became law in April, requires the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to adopt new rules to rein in oil and gas industry air pollution.

Together with our allies at Colorado Rising 350 Colorado, Mothers Out Front Colorado, and Frack Free Colorado, we called on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the Air Quality Control Commission, to meet a number of expectations and recommendations to ensure strong rules and accountability to public health, particularly along Colorado’s Front Range.

Most importantly, we called for rules that ensure if the Denver Metro-North Front Range region fails to meet federal health standards limiting ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog, that no new air pollution permits will be issued to the oil and gas industry.

We believe SB 181 provides enormous opportunities for the Department, Division, and Commission to get a complete handle on air pollution from the oil and gas industry, to make meaningful progress in protecting our clean air, and to ensure that public health is fully safeguarded.

– WildEarth Guardians, Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, Frack Free Colorado, Mothers Out Front

With the Denver Metro Area’s smog problem getting worse and Colorado in general facing increasing strains on its iconic clean air, now is not the time for Colorado Governor Jared Polis and his agencies to give the oil and gas industry a break.

Along Colorado’s Front Range and in the rest of the state, we need tough action to defend our clean air. And in holding the oil and gas industry accountable to clean air, we can make meaningful steps toward safeguarding our climate.

In Colorado and beyond, our clean air challenges and climate crisis go hand in hand because they’re both fueled by fossil fuels. Our strategy is to rein in air pollution and start making some serious progress for the climate.

So far, we’re on track. Stay tuned for more updates around our Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement Initiative.