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Widespread clean air violations reported by oil and gas companies in New Mexico

April 27, 2023
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#KeepItInTheGround, #PressStatement
Santa Fe, NM—WildEarth Guardians today called on Governor Michell Lujan Grisham’s Environment Secretary to confront rampant air quality violations reported by oil and gas companies in New Mexico.

“In spite of rules adopted by the Michelle Lujan Grisham administration to limit oil and gas industry venting and protect clean air, the reality is companies are routinely ignoring and violating these rules,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.  “We need action to confront and deter these violations and for the Environment Department to stop giving the oil and gas industry a free pass to pollute.”

At issue are widespread reports of gas venting by the oil and gas industry.  Data submitted by companies to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division shows large amounts of gas are being routinely vented at facilities in the state, primarily in the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico and the Permian Basin in the southeast.  At many facilities, this venting is exceeding legal thresholds under state and federal air quality laws.

In a letter today to New Mexico Environment Department Secretary, James Kenney, WildEarth Guardians called for action to address the problem.

While venting releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, it also releases other volatile organic compound gases that are toxic and contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog.

An analysis by WildEarth Guardians of venting between March 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023 found that venting at at least 60 oil and gas facilities released enough volatile organic compound gases to trigger legal clean air thresholds.  A map showing the location of these facilities can be viewed here >>

Many companies reported releases that exceeded air quality permitting thresholds for volatile organic compound emissions, yet have not applied for or obtained legally required permits.  Other facilities reported so much volatile organic compound releases that they violated their permitted limits.

One company, Cross Timbers Energy, reported near daily venting between March 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023, exceeding the most stringent air quality permitting thresholds at several well sites.  The company continues to report venting, but has yet to apply for or obtain permits to authorize these pollution releases.

“It’s bad enough companies are reporting so much routine venting, but now it’s clear much of this venting is violating clean air laws,” said Nichols.  “While the Oil Conservation Division may condone venting, the Environment Department can’t condone violations of our air quality laws.”

Other violating companies include Chevron, Hilcorp, Marathon, Mewbourne, and more.

WildEarth Guardians’ analysis relied on conservative oil and gas industry emissions estimates of volatile organic compound emissions released when facilities vent gas.  In general, volatile organic compounds can comprise around 20-30% of gas vented at production and processing facilities, although this can range higher and lower.

Reports of both venting and flaring submitted by companies to the Oil Conservation Division suggest that violations of clean air laws are likely more extensive and rampant.  In its letter today, WildEarth Guardians called on the Environment Department to more deeply investigate the extent to which oil and gas industry venting and flaring may not be complying with air quality requirements.

Flaring in the Permian Basin. Photo by WildEarth Guardians.

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