NEW MEXICO–(ENEWSPF)–January 26, 2016
By: Robert M. Bernstein, MD, FACE, President, Physicians for Social Responsibility, New Mexico Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility applauds the Bureau of Land Management for undertaking the proposed methane waste rule released last week. Offering more than just financial and environmental gains, the rule has the potential to improve the health of New Mexicans and Americans nationwide. Methane is a powerful climate pollutant, significantly more potent than carbon dioxide, and methane represents a serious public health threat.
Wasting natural gas makes no sense, yet oil and gas companies allow methane to leak from poorly maintained equipment, deliberately vent it to the atmosphere from older equipment and routine maintenance practices, and burn it as a waste product from oil drilling.
New Mexico is at particular risk from the health effects of methane due to the 2,500-square-mile cloud of the gas over the Four Corners region. The Four Corners methane plume causes as much greenhouse gas pollution in a year as seven coal-fired power plants, or as much as 14 times the annual emissions of New Mexico’s 700,000 cars.
When methane is released, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals are also released. These toxins, and the ozone produced by these toxins, can lead to illness, and sometimes death, for both adults and children. Health problems include heart attacks, asthma, and bronchitis. In addition to the health problems of the people affected, these illnesses cost money, because they result in increased hospital and emergency room visits, as well as lost work and school days. 180,000 New Mexicans already suffer from asthma, and it is immoral, as well as costly, to allow methane waste to continue exacerbating this health problem.
As bad or worse, other hazardous air pollutants such as benzene are released along with methane. These air pollutants are linked to cancer, neurological, cardiovascular, liver, kidney, and respiratory problems as well as effects on the immune and reproductive systems.
Low-cost solutions for our national methane waste problem are available. Cuts can be achieved for just one penny per thousand cubic feet of gas, which is 0.5 percent (1/10 of a cent) of the current natural gas price of around $2.00 per thousand cubic feet.
Last week’s BLM rule, addressing waste from existing sources emitting methane, will complement an EPA methane rule proposed in late 2015, which will control emissions from new sources. These two rules will help to protect the public from both the immediate health effects associated with methane as well as the damage to people’s health that results from climate change. As physicians, our wish is for good health for all people, including our children, grandchildren, and generations to come. For this reason, we stand strongly in support of the methane waste rules.