New Mexico accuses Permian Basin oil and gas operators of violating state air quality laws

Alleged violations range from air pollution to a lack of permits

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus
  • NMED issued first violations since Gov. Lujan Grisham took office.
  • Actions in response to State crackdown on oil and gas emissions.
  • Environmentalists champion enforcement efforts.

Two Permian Basin oil and gas operators were issued violation notices by the New Mexico Environment Department for alleged violations of state and federal air quality standards.

Matador Resources and Mewbourne Oil Company were both issued notices of violation (NOVs) by NMED regarding facilities in the Permian Basin.

The notices came after NMED conducted a sweep of inspections in southeast New Mexico in April, read a Monday NMED news release.

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High levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methane were observed by state regulators at several facilities in the region owned by Matador and Mewbourne.

Staff from the federal Environmental Protection Agency also noted violations to the Federal Clean Air Act at facilities owned by both companies, the release read.

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The State could issue a civil compliance order, statutory penalties or file for civil judicial action, read the NOVs.

The companies were given 10 days to request a conference with NMED and EPA to discuss the violations and present the State information about them.

Matador and Mewbourne were also called upon to develop a plan to come into compliance and prevent future violations.

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Matador Resources

The violation issued to Matador noted “multiple facilities” in Eddy and Lea counties were in violation of the Clean Air Act and State emission requirements.  

NMED records show Matador represented that its storage vessel emissions were “100 percent” captured and routed to a flare stack or vapor recovery unit (VRU).

But at several facilities, per the NOV, “significant” levels of VOCs were seen escaping.

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Matador’s VRUs were also found to vent the VOCs, rather than routing them to a processing stream or control device.  

The State also alleged that Matador failed to acquire state construction and operating permits for the facilities.

Matador did not return a request for comment. 

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Mewbourne Oil Company

Mewbourne was also found in violation of air quality standards at its facilities in Eddy and Lea counties, records show, with “significant” emissions from 11 of the 16 facilities inspected, pre the NOV.

The company was found in violation with state requirements related to storage vessel covers, and close vent systems, records show.

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The company was also found to have failed to submit annual reports for storage vessel activities as required by state law and obtain construction and operating permits through the State of New Mexico.

Officials from Mewbourne confirmed the company received the NOV on Nov. 4.

"Mewbourne Oil Company is investigating the claims and actively working alongside and cooperating with the EPA and the NMED to address all concerns," read a company statement. 

"Mewbourne Oil Company has conducted operations in a safe, environmentally responsible manner for 54 years in the Permian Basin and remains committed to doing so in the future."

Oil and gas industry ‘on notice’

NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said the notices were intended to hold oil and gas accountable for environmental harm potentially caused by oil and gas operations.

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

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The failures could result in “uncontrolled” emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to rises in ground-level ozone and air pollution, the release read.

Following the laws could result in a reduction of methane emissions, read the release, which is a potent greenhouse gas and key component of extracted natural gas.

Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, per data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The oil and gas industry is a “significant source” of methane emissions across New Mexico, the release read.

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The violations were the first issued by NMED since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office in January 2019, and committed the state to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution through an executive order that established a Climate Change Task Force, comprising of Kenney and Cabinet Secretary to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

In announcing the order, Lujan Grisham called on state regulators to reduced pollution as the federal government and President Donald Trump, she said, sought to rollback federal regulations related to carbon emissions from oil and gas.

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“We know all too well states cannot rely on the federal government right now to act responsibly and take the bold action scientists have made clear is needed to prevent calamitous climate change fallout in our lifetimes,” Lujan Grisham said.

"It’s up to us. And I have full confidence our commitments today will launch our state toward a robust transformation, with results delivered by each state agency to make a cohesive, effective whole.”

Here is a view of the Four Corners methane hotspot.

Bruce Baizel, energy program director at Earthworks – a Washington, D.C.-based environmentalist group – said the violations “were no surprise,” as Earthworks previously reported several oil and gas companies in violation of state and federal emissions standards.

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The organization filed 13 complaints to NMED last year for alleged violations and gas leaks at facilities in southeast New Mexico.

Earthworks personnel used forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras to film several Permian Basin facilities to track VOC emissions.

The footage represents emissions as grey clouds emanating from flair stacks, storage tanks and other infrastructure, but does not define what pollutant is released or its rate of emission.

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Baizel said both Mewbourne and Matador appeared to be emitting high levels of VOCs during Earthworks’ field research.

“Earthworks applauds Governor Lujan Grisham, Secretary Kenney and state regulators for protecting New Mexicans’ health and the climate by holding oil and gas polluters accountable. Under the previous administration, this rarely occurred,” Baizel said.

 “It’s no surprise to us that Matador and Mewbourne were sanctioned. NMED's action are consistent with what we've recorded at their sites and complaints we have filed as a result.”

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He said he hoped to violations issued on Monday would encourage other oil and gas operators to comply with state law and reduce air pollution emitted from facilities in the Permian.

“These violations, the first issued under this administration in New Mexico’s Permian, should serve as a warning to oil and gas operators,” Baizel said.

“Governor Grisham’s administration has made clear that stronger safeguards, more strongly enforced, will be the norm going forward and not the exception as with the past administration.”

Read Matador's notice of violation:

Read Mewbourne's notice of violation:

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.