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Guardians confronts illegal oil and gas industry air pollution in New Mexico’s Permian Basin

November 18, 2021
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#ClimateJustice, #JustTransition, #KeepItInTheGround
Santa Fe, NM–WildEarth Guardians today put Occidental Petroleum, also known as Oxy, on notice of an impending lawsuit over widespread clean air violations at the company’s operations in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico.

“For too long, Oxy and other oil and gas companies have turned their backs on our clean air laws, putting people and communities at risk in New Mexico and beyond,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “The oil and gas industry isn’t above the law and we intend to enforce the safeguards needed to keep our air safe and healthy.”

At issue is the oil and gas industry’s practice of regularly flaring gas in the Permian Basin. By law, companies like Oxy aren’t permitted to regularly flare, or burn off, produced gas. This is to ensure toxic air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, are kept in check to protect air quality.

Unfortunately, Oxy and other companies regularly ignore limits on flaring, opting instead to burn gas rather than curtail operations to limit air pollution. Companies operating in the Permian Basin, including Chevron, XTO (a subsidiary of Exxon), Oxy, and many more, openly report flaring events as “excess emissions,” which are considered violations.

An investigation by WildEarth Guardians uncovered more than 1,800 violations at just one of Oxy’s oil and gas processing facilities, the “Turkey Track Central Tank Battery and Gas Sales Compression” located near Carlsbad.

Click here to see a sampling of Oxy’s reported excess emissions at the Turkey Track facility >>

Despite these and other reported violations, the New Mexico Environment Department has so far refused to take any enforcement, effectively condoning rampant illegal air pollution.

“These violations epitomize industry’s glaring disregard for the law and clean air and the State of New Mexico’s refusal to hold industry accountable,” said Nichols.  “This isn’t about one company or one facility, this is about a complete lack of accountability within the entire oil and gas industry and the state regulatory system.”

In a formal notice to Oxy, Guardians stated its intent to sue the company over the violations at its Turkey Track facility.  Under the Clean air Act, where the state or federal government fail take enforcement action, citizens can independently file suit in federal court over air quality violations.  Before filing suit, parties first have to provide 60-days notice to polluters.

Today’s notice letter details the excess emissions violations reported by Oxy at its Turkey Track facility and the nature of the violations.  The violations include a number of hours-long excess emissions events between 2019 and the present, all of which led to the release of thousands of pounds of toxic air pollution.  All of the excess emissions were due to flaring and Oxy’s refusal to cease operations to prevent pollution.

Under the Clean Air Act, citizens can compel polluters to pay penalties of up to $99,681 per day per violation.  WildEarth Guardians estimates Oxy faces more than $350 million in penalties due to its violations.

These violations come as the Permian Basin of New Mexico is suffering excruciatingly high air pollution levels due to surging oil and gas extraction. The region is currently violating health-based air quality standards for ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog.

Although New Mexico is moving to adopt rules to clamp down on the oil and gas industry’s air pollution, excess emissions reported by Oxy and other companies indicates that any new rules may simply be ignored.

“This case isn’t just about Oxy, it’s about defending clean air for the entire Permian Basin,” said Nichols.  “Our aim is to put an end to the oil and gas industry’s assault on public health, environmental justice, and a safe climate.”

Flaring at an oil and gas well in the Permian Basin of New Mexico.

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