- Associated Press - Monday, July 20, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation on Monday pointed to a hot spot of the potent global-warming gas methane over part of the American Southwest, saying federal officials need to move quickly on reviewing new rules for curbing waste in oil and gas production.

The Democratic members of the delegation sent a letter to the federal Office of Management and Budget, asking for prompt consideration of rules being developed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Without the rules, they argue that natural gas resources are going to waste through venting, flaring and leaks - and that’s leading to millions of dollars in lost revenues for states and the federal government.

Pollution is the other concern, they wrote.

“We recognized that oil and gas producers have an economic incentive to minimize methane loses and the industry is improving its practices,” the letter states. “However, federal action is necessary to ensure that steps to limit methane releases are applied consistently across the industry.”

The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands, has indicated that various orders and a proposed rule to address the issue will be released later this year.

In May, a congressional investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that the bureau failed to conduct inspections for hundreds of high-priority oil and gas wells to ensure full payment of royalties to the U.S.

The GAO had been urging the bureau to update guidelines for the burning or venting of natural gas since at least 2010, when it found 40 percent of it could be captured economically and sold.

Some developers already have implemented emissions-reduction plans and are working to reduce venting and flaring. ConocoPhillips, New Mexico’s largest natural gas producer, is one of them.

Company officials said they reported a 48 percent reduction in greenhouse gases for operations in the San Juan Basin in 2014.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said Monday that the industry wants to work with researchers and regulators to identify and quantify the sources of methane in the basin, whether it comes from oil and gas production, coal mining or naturally occurring releases.

A satellite image of atmospheric methane concentrations over the continental U.S. shows a bright red blip over the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah. The image used data from 2003 to 2009.

Within that hot spot, a European satellite found atmospheric methane concentrations equivalent to emissions of about 1.3 million pounds a year. That’s about 80 percent more than the EPA had figured.

Aside from oil and gas, the region is home to coal-fired power plants and their associated mines.

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