Worsening air quality in Permian Basin ‘cause for concern’

Jeremy Nichols, director of WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program, is concerned about the air people are breathing in southeastern New Mexico. Nichols tracks ozone levels in Eddy and Lea counties, the state’s top oil producing counties in the Permian Basin. In early July, a key ambient air quality monitor near Carlsbad was abruptly shut down, after a monitoring station operator noticed the A/C unit at the site wasn’t working properly and the facility was getting too hot for the electronics. Nichols is worried about the incident because the monitor in question had recorded ozone levels in that area exceeding the federal standards before it was shut off.  Now, it’s not reporting any data on air quality in the Carlsbad area. “It basically means that people are not getting any information on the quality of the air they breathe,” he said.

With record methane emissions in Permian Basin, questions linger about necessity of the Double E pipeline

Federal regulators are in the midst of an application process for a proposed 135-mile pipeline that would transport natural gas from Eddy County to Waha, Texas. But with oil and gas prices low, renewables on the rise, and a growing methane emissions problem in the Permian Basin, critics argue building a new pipeline in today’s environment is a step in the wrong direction. 

Summit Midstream, the project developer, proposed the pipeline in 2018, when oil production in the Permian Basin was booming. Exxon Mobil acquired about 30 percent ownership of the project, while XTO Energy, which is owned by Exxon Mobil, signed on as an anchor tenant to use the majority of the pipeline’s capacity. In March, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave the project its first big greenlight when it released a draft environmental assessment that found it would have little impact on the surrounding environment and communities. 

The proposed route of the Double E pipeline. Source: Double E Pipeline

While proponents of the pipeline say it will help alleviate some of the excessive venting and flaring of natural gas that comes up with the oil in the Permian Basin, critics argue FERC failed to consider the cumulative climate impacts of the project, particularly the impact of increased methane emissions both in the Permian Basin, where the natural gas is produced, and in the “downstream” market when that natural gas is combusted. 

XTO Energy flares about 5 percent of its production, and is responsible for roughly 10 percent of statewide flaring, according to research conducted by Tom Singer, senior policy advisor at the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC).

The Carlsbad region was poised to send $3 billion to New Mexico coffers, thanks to one of the biggest oil booms in history. Then came COVID.

On a Thursday in late May, Michael Trujillo sat in the slightly softened evening light and watched his three children play in the water at Lake Carlsbad Beach Park, an unexpected patch of blue in the Chihuahuan desert. With his pit bull puppy at his feet, Trujillo passed slices of pizza from a stack of three Little Caesars boxes to two men in camp chairs. All three are oilfield workers, Carlsbad natives and, unlike thousands of others in the industry, all are still employed. But that hasn’t relieved their anger at the New Mexico governor and her coronavirus shutdown orders. “She needs to open the place up and let us do what we need to do,” the 36-year-old Trujillo said. 

Like a lot of people in town, Trujillo wishes Carlsbad was in Texas. 

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission. In that state, just 40 miles to the south, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t order a COVID-19 lockdown until April 2 and allowed businesses to start reopening by May 1.

‘It was raining on us’: Family awoken by produced water pipe burst near Carlsbad

Penny Aucoin and her husband Carl George were awoken in the early hours of Tuesday morning by the sound of a loud pop and gushing water. “We went out and it was dark at 2:30 in the morning. But when we walked outside we were getting rained on and it smelled like gas — it smelled strongly of gas,” Aucoin said as she recounted the events of the night to NM Political Report. “I said, ‘Honey, where’s it coming from?’ And he was like, ‘I don’t know!’ So he was using his flashlight on his phone trying to figure out where it was coming from.”

The “rain,” it turned out, was produced water, a fluid byproduct of oil and gas extraction activities, spewing from a broken pipe across the street. The water pressure was so high in the pipe that the produced water rained down on the family’s home, livestock and yard a good 200 yards away.

2019 Top Stories #1: NM cashes in on the world’s most productive oil field

The Permian Basin became the world’s most productive oilfield in 2019, and New Mexico is reaping the financial benefits. The state saw a significant revenue surge this year, resulting in a projected $7.8 billion collected. 

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association estimates the state produces 900,000 barrels of oil a day. It anticipates the state will surpass 300 million barrels of oil in 2019, the third year in a row for the state for record-setting production. Projections from the state’s Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) predict the state could see over $900 million in new money in 2020, due in large part of growing oil and gas royalties generated in 2019. Oil and gas now makes up 40 percent of the state’s budget.

NM Environment Review: Energy and EPA news plus climate change hits television in NM

As the legislative session kicks off, don’t expect many bills related to the environment. (Though we will have stories on those coming up soon.) This year’s 30-day session focuses on the state budget. Any other issues require that Gov. Susana Martinez place them on the call. But there’s plenty happening around the state when it comes to energy, regulations and climate. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Oil and gas giant bucks Interior Department in NM’s Permian Basin

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Interior Department wants to delay an Obama administration directive requiring energy companies to reduce methane emissions at drilling sites on federal lands. But one company with plans to drill in New Mexico says it will capture methane emissions with or without regulations. XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, recently invested $6 billion in acreage in New Mexico’s Permian Basin. The company said it’s committed to reducing methane emissions from its production and midstream operations nationwide. Jon Goldstein, director for regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund, said it shows that one of the biggest oil and gas producers in the U.S. is stepping up to make a positive impact.

Zinke’s high-price flights, oil and gas news and upcoming public meetings

US. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is under investigation for his travel arrangements—again. Earlier this week, the department’s Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into privately chartered flights the secretary took, costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. This isn’t the first time Zinke has exercised (alleged) ethical lapses when it comes to air travel. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Zinke issues order to boost drilling on federal lands, including in NM’s Permian Basin

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an order Thursday, aimed at boosting oil and gas leasing on federal lands. During a call with reporters, Zinke said the agency was specifically targeting for development places like the Permian Basin in New Mexico, Utah’s Uintah Basin and the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Out of the 700 million acres administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), he said only about 27 million are currently under lease. He also called out the agency for the length of time it takes to approve permits for oil and gas projects. The BLM’s permitting process, he said, takes 257 days.

As court knocks down methane rule stay, industry and regulators eye the Permian Basin

A federal court has thwarted plans by the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend an Obama-era rule tracking and cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. Last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suspended his agency’s implementation of the rule, which was opposed by the American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. But on Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with six environmental groups and granted an emergency stay of Pruitt’s suspension. In their opinion, the appeals court judges wrote that Pruitt’s suspension of the rule was both “unauthorized” and “unreasonable.” They overturned it, calling it arbitrary, capricious and in excess of the agency’s statutory authority. Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the court decision could have a big effect on New Mexico, particularly in the southeastern part of the state.