NEW MEXICO: Mewbourne Oil Spends $10M to Meet Clean Air Regs

Oermian Basin oil rigs

TYLER, Texas, August 16, 2023 (ENS) – An independent oil and gas producer in the Permian Basin, a shale oil and gas producing area in southeast New Mexico and West Texas, has agreed to pay a $5.5 million penalty and spend at least $4.6 million for projects to ensure 422 of its oil and gas battery pads in New Mexico and Texas comply with state and federal clean air regulations.

Mewbourne Oil Company agreed to these terms in settlement of claims of unlawful operations alleged in a civil complaint filed August 8 under the federal Clean Air Act and New Mexico state law. Mewbourne’s actions taken pursuant to the deal will eliminate more than 11,000 tons of harmful pollutants from the air each year.

“Good air quality is essential to the health of our communities, and we need to ensure that oil and gas facilities are properly designed, maintained and monitored in order to meet national standards,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We will continue to work to improve air quality and public health, including by holding oil and gas production operations like Mewbourne accountable for their violations of federal and state law.”

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney, 2023, (Photo courtesy New Mexico Environment Department)

“Compliance with air quality regulations is essential to ensure the health of our people and the protection of our environment,” said New Mexico Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney. “We will continue to conduct oil and gas investigations and aggressively enforce violations.”

The complaint, filed jointly by the United States on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the New Mexico Environment Department, NMED, alleges that, at more than 100 of its oil and gas production operations in New Mexico and Texas, Mewbourne failed to obtain required state and federal permits, failed to capture and control air emissions from storage vessels and failed to comply with inspection, monitoring and recordkeeping requirements.

EPA and NMED identified the alleged violations through field investigations and repeated flyover surveillance conducted in 2019, 2020 and 2022.

In addition to paying a $5.5 million fine – to be shared equally between the United States and the State of New Mexico – the consent decree, filed together with the complaint, requires the company to take numerous steps to ensure that 422 battery pads covered by the decree and located in New Mexico and Texas are operated lawfully. New Mexico’s portion of the fines will be sent to the State of New Mexico’s general fund.

Mewbourne will also spend at least $3.6 million to implement extensive design, operation, maintenance and monitoring improvements, including installing new tank pressure monitoring systems that will provide advance notification of potential emissions and allow for immediate response action by the company.

The company’s compliance with the consent decree will result in annual reductions of more than 9,900 tons of volatile organic compounds, VOCs, and 1,300 tons of methane.

VOCs are a key component in the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

As a co-benefit of these reductions, the settlement will result inreductions of greenhouse gas emissions. This includes reduction of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, by more than 33,000 tons per year, measured as carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, which would be like eliminating the consumption of over 3.4 million gallons of gasoline. Greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are a primary cause of climate change and global warming, scientists warn.

In addition to more immediate reductions in VOCs, Mewbourne has committed to spending at least $1 million to replace over 2,000 pollutant-emitting pneumatic devices with non-emitting devices on an accelerated schedule. This offset project will reduce VOC emissions over 15 years by 4,500 tons beyond that required by existing regulation.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, for criteria pollutants that are considered harmful to public health and the environment. Ozone is a criteria pollutant that is created when oxides of nitrogen, NOx, and VOC react in the atmosphere.

VOC and NOx are emitted by oil and gas production facilities, such as those operated by Mewbourne. During the timeframes of Mewbourne’s alleged violations, air quality monitors in the relevant counties in New Mexico registered rising ozone concentrations exceeding 95 percent of the NAAQS for ozone. In counties where ozone levels reach 95 percent of the NAAQS, New Mexico state law requires action to reduce ozone pollution.

The Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Enforcement Section is prosecuting this case in conjunction with the New Mexico Environment Department and EPA Region 6. The settlement is part of EPA’s National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative, Creating Cleaner Air for Communities by Reducing Excess Emissions of Harmful Pollutants.

The consent decree is available for public viewing at The United States will publish a notice of the consent decree’s lodging with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico in the Federal Register and will accept public comment for 30 days after the notice is published. The Federal Register notice includes instructions for submitting public comment.

Featured image: Oil pumpjacks in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas. June 8, 2022 (Photo by Charles Henry)

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