New Mexico’s methane hot spot

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released a new study…examining what caused a methane “hot spot” to form in New Mexico. This new study of methane emissions generated by the oil and gas industry in the state’s San Juan Basin is a major step forward in understanding the causes of New Mexico’s methane “hot spot.” It follows up on a 2014 satellite-based study that initially found the “hot spot” and sought to identify its specific causes.

The NASA study found that roughly 50 percent of basin-wide methane emissions come from more than 250 very large polluters that were detected by intensive NASA aerial surveys and ground crews. According to the authors, this finding confirms researchers’ earlier speculation that most of the basin’s methane emissions are related to natural gas extraction and coal mining.

But this is only half of the story as the study did not determine the source of the remaining 50 percent of emissions. Given the more than 20,000 (mainly older) gas wells, myriad storage tanks, thousands of miles of pipelines and several gas processing plants in the area, NASA’s finding that the oil and gas industry is primarily responsible for the “hot spot” is not surprising. In fact, the researchers found only one large source of methane not related to oil and gas operations: venting from the San Juan coal mine. This discovery renders attempts to point the finger at other potential emissions sources, like coal outcrops and landfills, definitively refuted.

Today’s Republicans do nothing by definition. Most of the state’s leading Democrats worry about meeting budget requirements defined almost solely by reliance on fossil fuel extraction. There is nothing approaching a Green Party and hasn’t been for 22 years.

The few activist enviro organizations fight the good fight — like the Wild Earth Guardians. There are more. Just not enough.

48 thoughts on “New Mexico’s methane hot spot

  1. Will B. says:

    A new scientific study, a summary of which appeared in the journal Nature yesterday, shows that while gas production has soared in recent years, the industry’s rate of leakage appears to have declined. (3rd in a series of stories about carbon sinks and sources. Links to parts one and two are included, along with a link to the Nature article).
    Oil and gas production on U.S. public lands generates about $9 billion annually, making it one of the largest non-tax sources of federal funds. The resource is overseen by the Interior Department, which is legally required to collect royalty payments and to make sure the public’s resources are not being wasted. The report notes that officials of the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees land-based oil and gas leases, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which watches offshore production, had little motivation to use new technologies, such as infrared cameras that can see major plumes of escaping gas. The result, GAO said, was that real leakage rates were running as much as 30 times higher than the Interior Department estimates.
    The United States had lost $58 million in federal royalty payments in 2008. With proper management, 40 percent of the lost gas might have been recovered and sold. The fugitive emissions of methane and CO2 were comparable to the emissions of 8 million passenger cars or 10 average-sized coal-fired power plants. The Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based environmental group, later commissioned its own testing of emissions from federally managed oil and gas fields and concluded that $330 million a year in natural gas resources were being wasted.

  2. New Rules says:

    “Venting and Flaring Rule kills New Mexico jobs” By U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce / N.M.’s Second Congressional District. Sunday, February 12th, 2017
    Pearce named to Natural Resources Committee “…Pearce has strong support from energy and natural resource donors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, those sectors gave the most to his re-election campaign last year—$307,700 out of about $1.8 million in total donations. Two of Pearce’s five top contributors were energy companies, and donations from oil and gas companies alone totaled more than $220,000.”

  3. Pop! goes the weasel says:

    EPA halts inquiry into oil and gas industry emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas The Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday it was withdrawing a request that operators of existing oil and gas wells provide the agency with extensive information about their equipment and its emissions of methane, undermining a last-ditch Obama administration climate change initiative.

  4. FYI says:

    “NM plays key role in methane rule conflict” New Mexico is playing a key role because it’s particularly impacted by emissions from oil and gas operations. The San Juan Basin in the Four Corners area is responsible for 14.5 percent of total U.S. methane emissions, according to data from the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. ICF International, an independent consulting firm, estimates New Mexico loses about $100 million worth of gas extracted annually on federal and tribal lands in the state. Compared to other hydrocarbon fuels, methane produces less carbon dioxide for each unit of heat released. Also since it’s the simplest hydrocarbon, methane (natural gas) produces more heat per mass unit (55.7 kJ/g) than other complex hydrocarbons.

  5. Update says:

    “Regulator links methane cloud to natural seeps” (Farmington Daily Times, March 8) The former oil and natural gas company executive believes a NASA survey of the methane cloud and its sources missed the “larger contributions” of methane from coal-seam outcroppings and coal mining. Ben Shelton, legislative and political director for Conservation Voters New Mexico, called the claims “patently false.” CVNM petition @

  6. Miku says:

    (June 14) “The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Tuesday it would postpone a 2016 rule limiting methane and smog-forming pollutants from oil and gas wells. The decision was made at the request of firms that would be affected by rule as the EPA reconsidered whether to implement the stricter standard. Separately, the Bureau of Land Management entered a notice into the Federal Register on Friday stating it would delay compliance with a rule finalized in November that would limit methane burned off from drilling operations on federal and tribal lands.”
    “As the feds yank methane regulations, NM’s methane hotspot isn’t going away” (6/19/17) Also “…there’s a new study showing that the methane hotspot is not dissipating, despite the downturn in natural gas production in the San Juan Basin.”

  7. Update says:

    The Trump administration cannot delay an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule limiting methane pollution from oil and natural gas drilling, a federal court ruled Monday.
    In an early court loss for President Trump’s aggressive agenda of environmental deregulation, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the EPA didn’t meet the requirements for a 90-day stay of the Obama administration’s methane rule.
    The decision means the EPA must immediately start enforcing the standards. See also$file/17-1145-1682465.pdf

  8. CH4 says:

    “NASA-led study solves a methane puzzle” (January 3, 2018) (includes time-lapse animation – scroll down for related stories)
    “Growing Opportunity For China-U.S. Collaboration To Reduce Oil And Gas Methane Emissions” (Forbes 12/11/17)
    Also: “Some of the biggest names in energy production in New Mexico have signed on to a national effort within the oil and gas industry to curb methane emissions as pressure mounts for states to enact more pollution laws. The move comes after the U.S. Interior Department last week announced it would delay an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from production on federal lands.”
    “Lawsuit Aims to Halt Trump Administration’s Suspension of Methane Pollution Rule”

  9. John Brunner says:

    Yesterday (Feb 12, 2018) the BLM moved to repeal its Waste Prevention Rule—intended to reduce the venting of methane, a greenhouse gas with at least 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over the short term—because, “In order to achieve energy dominance through responsible energy production, we need smart regulations not punitive regulations,” says the BLM’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management. Joseph “Joe” Balash is serving as the Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management. In this role, Balash oversees the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and heads “Interior’s management of all federal lands and waters, and their associated mineral and non-mineral resources, as well as the appropriate regulation of surface coal mining.” See for special Interests, previous employers and political connections.
    The agency is expected to publish the proposal in the Federal Register, which will kick off a 60-day public comment period. A final repeal of the rule would come after that.

  10. Teddy says:

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship has launched a media blitz arguing the Trump administration’s plan to roll back a waste-prevention rule on methane is not consistent with conservative principles.
    The Obama-era rule was designed to prevent energy waste, ensure a fair return on royalties, and improve air quality. It was set to take effect earlier this year, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said it was a burden on the industry and called for it to be eliminated.
    David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. He said he wants New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce to stop supporting the rollback.
    “You know, I’m a conservative, our organization is an organization of conservatives, and we’re of the opinion that waste is not conservative,” Jenkins said. “Common sense standards being put in place to prevent waste and to save taxpayers money, that’s a conservative thing to do.”
    Jenkins’ group has placed multiple newspaper, radio and online ads to support the methane rule [see ]. A conservation group that monitored the comment period on the proposed rollback said 99 percent of the half-million people who weighed in were opposed.
    The Department of the Interior reported that in 2014, oil and gas companies wasted enough gas to supply 1.5 million households for a year.
    Jenkins said in New Mexico alone, the industry is estimated to waste more than $100 million worth of natural gas annually.

  11. p/s says:

    “NM Governor Martinez, state energy secretary face tough questions from congressional committee” After the hearing, New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján explained that he attended the hearing in part to “get facts on how much revenue New Mexico is losing by flaring methane, and ask why there is little to no process for public comment and notice.”
    Unfortunately, Luján said, Gov. Martinez and McQueen, a former energy executive who now heads the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, left questions unanswered and did not substantiate their claims that New Mexico is losing revenue from oil and gas drilling due to bureaucratic backlogs. “According to estimates, in New Mexico alone, oil and gas companies emit 570,000 tons of methane each year, costing New Mexico $27 million every year in lost revenue,” he said. “This is unacceptable, we know in New Mexico every dollar counts.”

  12. Update says:

    Study: US oil and gas methane emissions have been dramatically underestimated. Using better equipment can reduce leakages, capture valuable gas. “The US has been dramatically underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations, according to a new study published in Science on Thursday. The study, conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund and 15 partner universities, asserts that methane emissions from oil and gas production are likely 63 percent higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency has reported.”

  13. Update says:

    Denver Post 8/31/18: “The Trump administration is rolling back some U.S. regulations on climate-changing methane pollution, calling them expensive and burdensome, but Colorado says its rules are working — and they have industry support.
    Energy companies have found and repaired about 73,000 methane leaks since 2015 under a state-required oil field inspection program, according to the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division. The number of leaks fell by 52 percent, from more than 36,000 in 2015 to about 17,250 in 2017, according a state report released last week.
    Colorado, the fifth-largest natural gas producer in the nation, started requiring energy companies to regularly inspect oil field equipment for leaks in 2014. The program is designed to reduce releases of methane and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are also components of natural gas. The American Petroleum Institute supports Colorado’s rules, spokesman Reid Porter said. The state’s success reflects a broad industry effort to reduce methane releases, he said.”

  14. Update says:

    PUBLIC LANDS: BLM to lock in methane rule revision (E&E News September 18, 2018) “BLM estimates the revised rule could result in close to $1 billion in net gains over 10 years. Those benefits were tied to expected savings for oil and gas firms, which would no longer have to pay to comply with the Obama rule. The Trump administration’s proposed rule anticipated a loss of at least $26.4 million in royalty payments, which benefit taxpayers.
    The draft revision rule applied a severe discount to the climate impact of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Obama’s BLM estimated its rule would have a minimum annual net benefit of $46 million once oil and gas operators were forced to internalize the costs of emitting methane into the atmosphere.” (see related headlines in sidebar)
    “Feds roll back methane capture rules in oil and gas fields” (Farmington Daily Times NM September 19, 2018)

  15. Whacked-out says:

    New study: Fracking prompts global spike in atmospheric methane (European Geosciences Union 9/14/19)
    As methane concentrations increase in the Earth’s atmosphere, chemical fingerprints point to a probable source: shale oil and gas, according to new Cornell University research published today (14 August) in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union. See

  16. Root Hog says:

    “New Mexico’s Oil Boom Is Under Threat” ( 8/27/19)
    “…Despite the steady and impressive growth in oil production across the Permian, this is not the best of times for the industry there. It is that same growth in production that has pushed oil prices lower, eating into bottom lines. Yet, this production growth has also pushed gas prices so low they have on several occasions this year slipped into negative territory.
    In this situation, when there are not enough pipelines to transport the gas to storage and not enough demand to use it, what producers are doing is flaring. The gas produced in the Permian is overwhelmingly associated gas, the kind that is released along with the oil from a fracked well. Even if you don’t want it, you get it, and most of it is methane. When you have nothing else to do with it, you flare it. Gas flaring in the Permian hit a record high in the first quarter of the year. [see ]
    Although it appears to be a wasteful, harmful practice, flaring is apparently the better option than releasing the methane directly into the air. However, the way things stand with the unwanted production of associated gas, any tightening of the methane emissions regulation in New Mexico will have an immediate effect on the industry, which is already complaining about it.

  17. Update says:

    New Mexico: With record methane emissions in Permian Basin, questions linger about necessity of the Double E pipeline
    “While proponents of the pipeline say it will help alleviate some of the excessive venting and flaring of natural gas that comes up with the oil in the Permian Basin, critics argue FERC failed to consider the cumulative climate impacts of the project, particularly the impact of increased methane emissions both in the Permian Basin, where the natural gas is produced, and in the “downstream” market when that natural gas is combusted.
    XTO Energy flares about 5 percent of its production, and is responsible for roughly 10 percent of statewide flaring, according to research conducted by Tom Singer, senior policy advisor at the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC).
    …Oil and gas activities in the Permian have released methane at twice the average rate found in previous studies of 11 other major U.S. oil and gas regions, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances in April used satellite imagery to map emissions.
    The study found 3.7 percent of the gross gas extracted in the Permian is emitted, which is about 60 percent higher than the national average leakage rate for methane.”

    Map: “Methane emissions in the Permian Basin”. Source: “Quantifying methane emissions from the largest oil-producing basin in the United States from space” (Science 7/10/20) (ppbv parts per billion by volume).

  18. Update says:

    As methane rulemaking progresses, questions about exemptions linger
    Research published earlier this year in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association found that marginal wells that produce less than 1 barrel of oil per day account for 11 percent of methane emissions tracked in the U.S. EPA’s greenhouse gas inventory, despite contributing less than 1 percent of the country’s oil and gas production per year.
    According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), marginal oil wells producing less than 15 barrels of oil per day make up roughly 71 percent of oil wells in the state.

  19. Update says:

    Can New Mexico field enough inspectors to curb its massive methane leaks?
    Monica Kuehling, an OCD compliance officer in the opposite corner of the state, inspects wells in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico. She and the other site inspectors often visit between 20 and 50 well sites a day.
    Although sometimes, inspectors get to just one.
    Kuehling has a 4½ hour drive to some wells in her area, and thanks to distances and bad roads, she tries to hit every well every three years.
    Cordero and Kuehling are two of OCD’s 10 inspectors—responsible for checking on more than 52,000 operational oil and gas wells in New Mexico. Their inspections are key to protecting the health of residents and to monitoring the leaks causing massive methane plumes over the San Juan and Permian basins. They’re also important to ambitious plans by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s oil and gas industry, which make up more than half the state’s total.
    But at a time when inspections and monitoring should be increasing and becoming more stringent, inspection numbers keep falling short and the number of new wells keeps rising. Furthermore, OCD’s parent, the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, proposed a 20% cut in funding for the division in the upcoming fiscal year. And even at full capacity, inspectors alone can’t tighten the lid on the oil and gas industry’s impact on climate change.
    See also: “New Technology Claims to Pinpoint Even Small Methane Leaks From Space : Amid growing alarm about methane’s role in driving global warming, a Canadian firm has begun selling a service to detect even relatively small leaks. At least two rivals are on the way. (NYT 11/11/20)
    and “The Danger of Big Oil’s New Methane Emissions Pledge” (Gizmodo 11/23/20 )

  20. Update says:

    New Mexico: “‘We’ve got a waste issue’: Groups press state for stricter methane rules despite budget concerns”
    Related story: “Legislators say timing isn’t right for new methane rules amid budget crunch”
    Note: 45% of New Mexico’s general fund revenues are dependent on the oil and gas industry. See “New Report Examines the Oil & Gas Industry’s Influence in New Mexico” Key findings at

  21. Will C. says:

    New Mexico Environmental advocates praise adoption of final methane waste rule
    “The Oil Conservation Commission has approved a strong methane waste rule that delivers on three important goals: it bans venting and flaring of gas except in limited circumstances, requires flaring over venting except when necessary for health and safety and emergencies, and requires all oil and gas companies to capture 98percent of methane emissions by 2026,” Tannis Fox, an attorney with Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement released following the vote. “Now the New Mexico Environment Department must follow suit and eliminate significant loopholes and exemptions in its draft air pollution rule if New Mexico is to lead the nation in reducing methane waste and pollution and holding the oil and gas industry accountable.”

  22. Update says:

    Swift action to cut methane emissions could slow the Earth’s warming by 30 percent, study finds
    “People talk about net zero in 2050 but what the temperature will be in 2050 will be determined by what we do now,” says one author.
    The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, calculated that a full-scale push using existing technologies could reduce methane emissions in half by 2030. Such reductions could have a crucial impact in the global effort to limit warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial levels — a central aim of the Paris climate accord.
    In human terms, that could translate into fending off the most severe sea level rise, preventing more profound damage to animal habitats and ecosystems and delaying other extreme climate impacts.
    Environmental Research Letters (4/27/21): “Acting rapidly to deploy readily available methane mitigation measures by sector can immediately slow global warming”

  23. Update says:

    “Kendra Pinto, a resident of Navajo Nation, was using an infrared camera to check for emissions earlier this year when she discovered methane leaking from under the ground due to a leak at a well site. Pinto said she reported the leak and, to her knowledge, the well site was shut in and excavated to inspect for the leak. She said such instances are not uncommon at oil and gas sites near her home in northwest New Mexico.
    Activists like Pinto, who works as a Four Corners Indigenous community field advocate for Earthworks, hope new federal methane regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and will also cut down on the air pollution impacting nearby communities’ health.”
    EPA: Standards of Performance for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources and Emissions Guidelines for Existing Sources: Oil and Natural Gas Sector Climate Review

  24. Update says:

    “Why Won’t the EPA Fine New Mexico’s Greenhouse Gas Leakers?
    The state asked for federal help to find oil field emissions; the EPA found dozens — but in three years it has issued only two fines.”
    “New Mexico County to Ease Oil & Gas Drilling Rules Despite New Evidence of Health Dangers : A move by the Valencia County Commission surprises the public and helps a major donor.”
    “Environmental groups release new oil and gas threats map” The map is available online and people can type in their address to see how many production facilities are located within half a mile of their house.

  25. Cassandra says:

    Methane is four times more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, a new study shows. The result helps to explain the rapid growth in methane in recent years and suggests that, if left unchecked, methane related warming will escalate in the decades to come.
    The growth of this greenhouse gas – which over a 20 year timespan is more than 80 times as potent than carbon dioxide – had been slowing since the turn of the millennium but since 2007 has undergone a rapid rise, with measurements from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recording it passing 1,900 parts a billion last year, nearly triple pre-industrial levels.

  26. Update says:

    New study fingerprints methane emission sources in the San Juan Basin
    “It’s been eight years since NASA’s announcement that they identified a methane hotspot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin, and a new study by researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory fingerprints some of the sources.
    This study was published in the journal Geophysical Research: Atmosphere in September and, according to the lab, the research will help identify sources of methane emissions so that measures can be taken to reduce the pollution.
    Scientists compared the level of ethane to methane in emissions to determine if they came from coal or natural gas and oil. The researchers used measurements taken from 2013 through 2021.
    While natural gas primarily consists of methane, it also contains other hydrocarbons, including ethane.
    Since 2014, politicians from San Juan County have repeatedly attempted to characterize the methane hotspot as a result of naturally-occurring emissions. The methane hotspot received national attention as the largest in the United States.”

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