New Mexico’s and the world’s oil and gas industry saw dramatic fluctuations in 2020 as the COVID-19 health crisis led to travel and business restrictions that brought on an historic decline in fuel demand and the value of fossil fuels.
The industry appeared on the mend in recent months as a vaccine for COVID-19 drew closer to becoming available, and oil prices began to recover.
But Earthworks Field Advocate Nathalie Eddy said one thing hasn’t changed: pollution.
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As a registered thermographer with the national environmental group, Eddy recently took part in a field study of the Permian Basin region using forward looking infrared (FLIR) cameras to document potentially illegal or uncontrolled emissions from oil and gas sites in southeast New Mexico.
The cameras cannot determine what exactly is being emitted or the rate of emission, but do illustrate changes in heat that could show gasses being released which are invisible to the naked eye.
“A lot of what we’re seeing is more of the same,” Eddy said. “There’s not a lot of air pollution enforcement in the Permian Basin, so there’s a huge gap there. There was a dip in production, but we’re seeing a lot of that come back up. That seems consistent with an increase in pollution.”
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A month after the initial tour in early November, Eddy said the group plans to submit several complaints to the New Mexico Environment Department for sites in Eddy County – at least three near Loving in southern area of the county and another four or five in the Loco Hills region to the northeast.
In the Loving area, Eddy said Earthworks was planning to file complaints based on fugitive emissions from a well at Forehand Ranch owned by Caza Operating and another at Ogden Ranch.
A third, the Sendero Midstream Pecos Compressor Station would also be reported for perceived emissions filmed during the field study.
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A Dec. 8 report from Earthworks argued oil and gas companies were not doing enough to reduce pollution, despite recent commitments made by the industry to curb emissions and address fossil fuels’ impact on climate change.
The study looked at efforts from eight oil and gas companies: Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Markwest, Equinor, ConocoPhillips and Occidental Petroleum and alleged they had failed to meet their commitments.
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While all but three companies in the study, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Occidental publicly opposed a rollback of federal methane regulation from the administration of President Donald Trump, the study read, only two – Chevron and Occidental – supported “strong and enforceable” state methane rules.
Meanwhile, none of companies stopped contributing to methane pollution, the study read, despite most of them committing to cut such emissions.
“The world doesn’t have time for more PR tricks of saying one thing yet doing another,” said Josh Eisenfeld, Corporate Accountability Communications Campaigner at Earthworks. “The climate crisis is here, and we need oil & gas companies to act to quickly reduce their total climate pollution.”
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Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager at Friends of Earth, a national environmental group based in Washington, D.C., said the industry must be held accountable for its commitments to address pollution.
“No amount of spin changes the fact that the oil and gas extraction is wreaking havoc on our communities and our climate,” she said. “The industry’s actions and lobbying show that producers are only interested in cleaning up their image, not their pollution.”
Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council said the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden must prioritize environmental protections from extraction operations and undue many of the policy changes conducted by the Trump administration.
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“The Trump administration has given the fossil fuel industry a blank check to pollute nationally, and President-Elect Joe Biden must work quickly to repair and replace the public health protections gutted by Trump’s EPA, specifically repairing the 2016 New Source Performance Standards for oil and gas facilities to include robust and comprehensive standards for methane leakage,” Minott said in a statement.
“It is the federal government’s absolute responsibility to minimize greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuel corporations so that we may avoid the worst effects of climate change.”
In another report from investor advocacy group As You Sow, the group joined a collective of investment firms in pressing the U.S. banking industry to file resolutions focused on climate change with JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of American, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup – some of the biggest funders, read the report, of the fossil fuel industry.
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“Banks are key to reducing climate risk to their organizations and the economy as a whole,” said Danielle Fugere, President of As You Sow. “So long as financing for high-carbon projects is available, it will be used.
“Given the shrinking window of opportunity to change climate outcomes, investors are looking to every bank to immediately undertake the three step process of measuring their financed emissions, publicly disclosing and becoming accountable for those emissions, and setting net-zero targets with interim goals to reduce them.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: New Mexico oil and gas pollution persists amid climate change concerns
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