NMED, EPA joint inspections result in three oil and gas emission settlements

The New Mexico Environment Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency joined forces to perform targeted inspections of oil and gas facilities in the Permian Basin a few years ago. This investigation focused on five companies. Of those five, three of them have now entered into settlements with NMED and the EPA regarding emissions following […]

NMED, EPA joint inspections result in three oil and gas emission settlements

The New Mexico Environment Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency joined forces to perform targeted inspections of oil and gas facilities in the Permian Basin a few years ago.

This investigation focused on five companies. Of those five, three of them have now entered into settlements with NMED and the EPA regarding emissions following civil suits.

The most recent of these companies was Apache Corporation, which has agreed to pay $4 million in civil penalties to the federal government and New Mexico. That amount will be divided between the state and federal government with New Mexico’s share going to the permanent fund.

The other two companies were Matador Production Company and Mewborne Oil Company.

Matador entered into a $6.2 million settlement while Mewborne agreed to pay $5.5 million in civil penalties.

In addition to the $4 million that Apache has agreed to pay, the company is also required to spend at least $5.5 million on projects to reduce emissions and increase response times when leaks occur at 422 well pads in both New Mexico and Texas.

Cindy Hollenberg, the compliance and enforcement section chief at NMED’s Air Quality Bureau, provided NM Political Report with an overview of how the inspections worked.

Inspections included optical gas imaging both on the ground and during flyover operations in 2019, 2020 and 2022. Optical gas imaging uses a special camera that can detect leaks.

Hollenberg said there were five teams and each one was assigned a single company to inspect. These teams also inspected specific facilities. 

The civil suit that followed alleged that there were violations at 23 of Apache’s facilities in New Mexico and Texas.

These inspections were done prior to new state regulations like the ozone precursor rules.

“Robust enforcement of Clean Air Act violations at oil and gas facilities protects communities

from harmful smog and reduces methane emissions that are major contributors to global climate change,” David M. Uhlmann, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and

Compliance Assurance, said in a press release. “Today’s agreement demonstrates EPA’s commitment to working with our state partners to tackle climate change and improve air quality for everyone living in the United States.”

The three settlements will result in significant emission reductions.

If Apache complies with the settlement, it will result in an annual reduction of more than 9,650 tons of volatile organic compounds and 900 tons of methane, which is equivalent to more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, Matador’s settlement is anticipated to reduce pollutants by 16,000 tons, including oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide.

Mewborne’s settlement will lead to annual reductions of more than 9,900 tons of volatile organic compounds and 1,300 tons of methane.

These settlements also come as the EPA has placed New Mexico on notice that high ozone levels in southeast New Mexico are in nonattainment, meaning the ozone levels are higher than federal standards. Volatile organic compounds are one of the components needed to create ozone. High levels of ground-level ozone can contribute to respiratory illness and worsen conditions like asthma.

While Hollenberg could not disclose which companies may be inspected in the next rounds, she said the partnership between the EPA and NMED is continuing and they are scheduling more joint inspections.

NMED Secretary James Kenney said that the alleged emissions violations occurred during a time when oil and gas companies in the Permian Basin were “making money hand over fist.” But, he said, the companies are not investing that money back into their facilities in a way that ensures compliance with state rules and permit requirements.

While New Mexico does not have the authority to go after operations in Texas, Kenney said excess emission from facilities in that part of the Permian Basin can impact air quality in New Mexico.

“We’re glad that EPA is leveling the playing field,” he said. “That’s going to benefit New Mexicans both from a public health standpoint and attainment with the federal standards.”

Reducing emissions from oil and gas will be critical to bringing New Mexico into attainment with the federal ozone standards. Kenney said should the state fail to curb ozone emissions, it could face consequences such as sanctions related to motor vehicles.

“I think the key message here is clean up, do better, comply,” he said. “Because New Mexico’s public health depends upon it, as does our economy.”

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