April 28, 2023

Environmental group calls on NMED to address air pollution from oil and gas

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

An abandoned pumpjack is seen in a field in Kirtland.

An environmental advocacy group alleges that oil and gas companies across New Mexico are violating state rules by venting large quantities of gas. 

WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney on Thursday requesting that NMED “take immediate steps to end…this illegal air pollution and penalize the companies who are so blatantly flouting public health safeguards.”

The organization analyzed venting from March 1, 2022 to March 1, 2023 and found that at least 60 facilities released levels of volatile organic compounds “to trigger legal clean air thresholds,” according to a press release.

“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,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in the press release. “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.” 

WildEarth Guardians alleges that companies are failing to obtain proper permits, violating the emission limits in the permits and not reporting excess emissions.

The letter highlights several examples, including a company venting more than 400 pounds of volatile organic compounds per hour for four days last fall in Lea County and another company failing to report excess emissions at 10 facilities in the Lybrook and Nageezi area of San Juan County, which is near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Another company reported venting almost every day between March 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023, WildEarth Guardians states. The organization argues that this venting exceeded “the most stringent air quality permitting thresholds at several well sites.” 

According to the press release, that company continues to vent but has not applied for obtained permits for the venting. 

WildEarth Guardians relied on Oil Conservation Division data and records to analyze the venting.