The oil and gas industry doesn’t have nearly the same footprint within Arizona as it does elsewhere, but the Grand Canyon State is definitely dealing with the impact from its larger- producing neighbors.
In 2014, NASA discovered that oil and gas operations were largely responsible for a methane cloud the size of Delaware hovering over the Four Corners region. Although there is little oil and gas production in the state, Arizonans are stuck dealing with the pollution and health factors being produced next door.
These effects will only be exacerbated if Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal, which effectively guts the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste and Prevention Rule, succeeds.
This rule was designed to curb methane waste by requiring operators developing oil and gas on national public lands to use the latest technology to both capture wasted methane that is either released into the atmosphere or burnt off through flaring and repair leaks from equipment.
This borderless pollution could be devastating to our health — when natural gas, primarily in the form of methane, is released into the air, so are harmful pollutants such as benzene, a known carcinogen, and other ozone-forming pollutants that can trigger asthma attacks. The impact is even greater on Latino communities, as they face elevated risks due to toxic emissions, according to a report by the National Hispanic Medical Association and Clean Air Task Force, which found that “more than 1.81 million Latinos live within a half mile of existing oil and gas facilities and the number is growing every year.”
In 2016, Mi Familia Vota partnered with Hispanic Access Foundation, League of Conservation Voters and other Latino-focused groups to highlight the community’s support and later successfully defend the rule against an effort by Congress to roll it back – Sen. John McCain was a deciding factor in keeping the rule intact. In developing the methane rule, the BLM held numerous hearings and meetings with industry, tribes, and the public – over 300,000 comments were taken into account. A bipartisan public opinion poll, Colorado College The State of the Rockies: Conservation in the West 2017 Poll, found that 81 percent of voters in seven Western states, including Arizona, supported rules mitigating methane gas waste on our public lands.
Significant public support, and a successful vote in Congress, is not enough to deter the Trump administration from putting special interests ahead of communities. Not only will this damage our health, but it will also hurt our checkbooks.
Each year more than $330 million worth of natural gas is being wasted on public and tribal lands. American taxpayers could lose out on $800 million over the next decade, due to oil and gas industry’s common practices of venting and leaking natural gas pollution into the air. If that gas was instead captured and sold on local markets, revenues would be paid to the U.S. Treasury and local communities in energy-producing states to help fund education and infrastructure.
Last week, Mi Familia Vota signed a letter, along with 15 other Latino organizations, asking the BLM not to gut this important rule. Our comment, like the overwhelming majority submitted, was in favor of keeping the existing rule strong.
If the administration continues to disregard the concerns of the voting public, then we need a Congress that will hold the administration responsible for these and other attacks on our environment and public health. We need to make sure we safeguard Arizonan’s health, protect our pocketbooks and prevent the waste from other states from polluting the air we breathe.
Ben Monterroso is executive director of Mi Familia Vota
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.