Scientists examining methane pollutants in the Four Corners | KOB 4

Scientists examining methane pollutants in the Four Corners

Meg Hilling
January 12, 2018 08:36 AM

AZTEC, N.M. -- Now you see it. Now you don't. 


Unlike your garbage, pollutants like methane aren't exactly the easiest to see.

"So we have a special camera, an optical gas imaging camera that allows us to see invisible pollution. And that is why it is such a hard problem for people to really wrap their heads around," Earthworks representative Hilary Lewis said.

For years, the Four Corners has been home to the largest methane hotspot in the United States. Earthworks hopes that by finding these leaks and informing the communities around them that the hotspot and others like it could begin to shrink.

Using the same imaging technology regulators in the gas and oil industry operate, the nonprofit environmental group is working to help make these pollutants visible to the communities in which they are found.

"Right now what we are doing is part of a community empowerment project, which is focused on finding methane pollution and other pollution for oil and gas facilities and using that pollution to help create change,” Lewis said.

According to Earthworks, pollutant leaks from gas and oil facilities are unfortunately pretty common and can include carcinogens like benzene.

"When we see these videos, we don't know exactly what is in the video," Lewis said. "They are just showing pollution. But we know that it is one of the twenty plus pollutants that the video is able to detect. The camera is able to detect."

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association sent KOB a statement in response.

"Methane emissions in the San Juan Basin have fallen by 47% since 2011, driven by a commitment from oil and gas producers to innovate and develop better gas capture technology," NMOGA Spokesperson Robert McEntyre said. "Rather than acknowledge this progress, EarthWorks continues a campaign of deceiving and misleading the public with infrared images that their activists cannot distinguish from methane, water vapor, or heat."


Meg Hilling

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