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NMED cracks down on air quality violations

Earthworks thermographer Sharon Wilson uses a thermal imaging camera to capture methane emissions at a Matador oil facility south of Carlsbad on Nov. 6. The New Mexico Environment Department has issued notices of air quality violation to Matador and Mewbourne Oil Co. (Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the first time under cabinet secretary James Kenney, the New Mexico Environment Department has notified two oil and natural gas production companies that they are in violation of state and federal air quality standards.

The notices follow an April inspections sweep by NMED and the Environmental Protection Agency. Inspectors examined 98 oil and natural gas sites in southeast New Mexico’s booming Permian Basin.

Those investigations showed that Matador Production Co. and Mewbourne Oil Co. are failing to capture natural gas emissions or close vent systems.

NMED did not specify which facilities are in violation.

For Penny Aucoin, who lives south of Carlsbad and a few hundred feet from a Matador oil well, emissions and poor air quality are facts of life.

“There is always a smell in the air from the rigs,” she said. “It’s horrendous.”

Aucoin said her husband and two children, ages 11 and 18, have had headaches, nosebleeds, asthma attacks and respiratory infections since the oil well was built across the street from her home six years ago. She credits methane and other air pollutants from the facility as the source of her family’s health problems.

The latest environment department action comes as New Mexico works to create statewide regulations for methane, a harmful greenhouse gas pollutant.

In April, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association released federal data about methane emissions in the state. According to NMOGA, oil and natural gas facilities in New Mexico reduced emissions by 728,00 metric tons in the San Juan Basin and by 100,000 metric tons in the Permian Basin from 2016 to 2017.

NMOGA said improved technology and infrastructure contributed to the decline.

Meanwhile, the federal government has proposed relaxing emissions monitoring for energy companies. Aucoin is one of six New Mexico mothers who traveled to Dallas last month to testify at an EPA hearing about the methane rule changes.

“We need stronger regulations,” she said. “They shouldn’t vent or flare gas when there is the technology to capture it. This is what you get when you drill so close to residences. I don’t care if there’s oil or gas there. We were here first.”

An NMED statement said the EPA has issued similar violation notices to Matador and Mewbourne.

“We are committed to holding the oil and natural gas industry accountable for compliance with rules and permits,” Kenney said in a statement. “Enforcement of state and federal standards is essential to protecting public and environmental health and creating a level playing field among operators.”


Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal. Visit reportforamerica.org to learn about the effort to place journalists in local newsrooms around the country.

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