November 5, 2019

NMED issues first round of violation notices for methane emissions in Permian Basin

Flare Off & Pumpjack (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by blake.thornberry

Permian Basin Oil Field in Eddy County

The New Mexico Environment Department issued notices of violation to two oil and gas producers operating in southeastern New Mexico. Matador Production Company and Mewbourne Oil Company were both cited for violating the state’s Air Quality Control Act.

NMED discovered the violations during an inspection conducted in April alongside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The violations included failure to capture emissions from storage vessels, failure to maintain pilot lights on flares, failure to comply with closed vent system requirements and failure to ensure natural gas is captured and not emitted to the atmosphere. The EPA also cited the two companies for violating the federal Clean Air Act.

NMED Secretary James Kenney said the department is “committed to holding the oil and natural gas industry accountable for compliance with rules and permits” in a statement.

The environmental advocacy group Earthworks applauded NMED for taking steps to hold oil and gas companies accountable for pollution.

“It’s no surprise to us that Matador and Mewbourne were sanctioned,” said Earthworks’ energy program director Bruce Baizel in a statement. Baizel said Earthworks has recorded similar violations and filed complaints against the two companies. 

The notices “should serve as a warning to oil and gas operators,” Baizel said. “Governor [Michelle Lujan] Grisham’s administration has made clear that stronger safeguards, more strongly enforced, will be the norm going forward and not the exception, as with the past administration.”

The notices are the first targeting methane emissions in the Permian Basin under Lujan Grisham’s administration. Reeling in methane emissions has become a priority for the governor, as she seeks to balance the economic benefits of a booming oil and gas sector in the state with her administration’s goals of reducing carbon emissions, increasing the use of renewable energy and protecting the health of New Mexico residents. 

RELATED: Guv. announces ‘data refinery’ to track methane emissions by satellite

Lujan Grisham announced earlier this year her administration would tighten greenhouse gas emission regulations, including methane emissions, but EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has proposed rolling back federal methane emission regulations for the oil and gas sector.

Last month, Lujan Grisham and Kenney submitted comments to the EPA strongly opposing the move. Kenney said the rollback would “significantly degrade air quality and adversely impact public health” in New Mexico.