For Immediate Release
NASA Says Methane "Hot Spot" in New Mexico Linked Directly to Gas Extraction and Coal Mining
Study says 250 polluters are responsible for half of the emissions causing the "hot spot"
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - NASA released a new study today 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.
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.
Despite identifying the source of the emissions, one of the authors’ key conclusions is not supported by the evidence. The report says that the small number of large methane sources, “suggests that mitigation of field-wide emissions such as those estimated for Four Corners will be less costly because it only requires identifying and fixing a few emitters.” [emphasis added]
The Western Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit public interest law firm that works to protect and restore western wildlands and advocates for a healthy environment on behalf of communities throughout the West.