In response to mounting pressure over growing air pollution problems, Exxon subsidiary XTO Energy last week withdrew an application to construct a massive new natural gas processing plant in New Mexico.
This development is a big win for clean air, health, and climate. It’s also the latest victory in our efforts to confront the fracking industry in the Permian Basin, the world’s largest oil producing region.
Earlier this year, Guardians objected to the New Mexico Environment Department’s proposal to approve an air pollution permit that would have allowed XTO to build the Husky Gas Processing Plant and Central Delivery Point in southeast New Mexico.
The facility, which would have processed fracked gas from wells in the region, would have been a huge source of air pollution, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases, like methane and carbon dioxide, and smog forming emissions, like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.
Southeast New Mexico is already struggling with dangerously high air pollution levels. Fueled by a fracking boom, the region is violating health limits on ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog.
In our comments, we highlighted how approval of XTO’s permit was not legal under New Mexico’s air quality laws and regulations.
While the New Mexico Environment Department was still poised to approve XTO’s permit on September 7, 2020, the agency informed Guardians on September 2 that XTO withdrew its permit application.
However, from our standpoint, air quality concerns clearly factored heavily into XTO’s decision.
This new gas processing plant would have been a major installation, with XTO investing considerably in its planning. The company’s 700 page permit application contained exhaustive expert reports, schematics, studies, and analyses. Yet at the end of the day, XTO simply couldn’t demonstrate its new plant would protect clean air, health, and the climate.
XTO’s decision most likely reflects the fact that the company saw its proposed gas processing plant as a losing investment. Ultimately, the company’s decision is a stark reflection of the headwinds facing the oil and gas industry as they own up to their true environmental costs.
Finally, even the oil and gas industry recognizes it makes more economic sense to keep it in the ground.
WildEarth Guardians is on the frontlines challenging new fracking and new oil and gas industry infrastructure in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico. The latest decision by Exxon’s XTO Energy to withdraw an air pollution permit application is a testament to our ability to defend clean air and health from fossil fuels, and the potential of our strategies and tactics to yield big gains for the climate.