Resource-Rich New Mexico Has a $322 Million Methane Problem

(Bloomberg) -- New Mexico has a methane problem. Despite being the No. 9 natural gas producer in the U.S., the Land of Enchantment ranks first when it comes to wasting federal gas.

Producers operating on federal lands in New Mexico have reported losing more than 86.6 billion cubic feet of gas between 2008 and 2017 through venting, flaring and leaks. That amounts to about $322 million of wasted product, according to a report released Tuesday by the Wilderness Society and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Resource-Rich New Mexico Has a $322 Million Methane Problem

The problem is poised to grow with the Trump administration’s relaxation of federal rules governing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere 84 times more than carbon dioxide.

In a bid to cut industry costs, the Environmental Protection Agency in September proposed dialing back Obama-era rules to curb methane leaks on private land -- despite internal concerns that doing so would trigger greater methane missions. Weeks later, the Interior Department rolled back similar methane curbs on federal lands.

That leaves regulation up to the states. Colorado has the strictest curbs, while New Mexico has some of the laxest. Unlike other top producers, New Mexico doesn’t ban the venting of natural gas at the wellhead, nor does it impose emissions standards for producers. New Mexico also happens to be deeply attractive to oil and gas explorers. A September auction of drilling rights on federal land saw leases going for a record $95,001 an acre.

Texas, the country’s largest oil and gas producing state, didn’t make the list because less than 2 percent of it is federal land.

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