Blocking oil and gas permits may be necessary to stop air pollution, New Mexico environmental activists argued in an appeal to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Groups have called for an end to oil and gas permits as the state established new rules to limit emissions of methane and other air pollutants from mining operations.
The New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources (EMNRD) recently promulgated new rules for oil and gas operators that will require them to capture 98% of natural gas emissions by 2026, while that the New Mexico Department of the Environment (NMED) has requested accompanying regulations to reduce precursor ozone emissions.
Ground-level ozone, a carcinogenic air pollutant, is created when volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are frequently emitted from oil and gas installations, interact with sunlight.
The Carlsbad and Hobbs areas – both known for their heavy fossil fuel related activities – were found by NMED to have some of the highest ozone levels in the state, exceeding federal standards.
As part of the NMED rule-making process, the State Environmental Improvement Council announced that it will host a meeting on September 20 on ozone regulations, and environmental activists from the New Mexico argued that no new oil and gas permits authorizing such emissions should be authorized until the rules are in place.
“In the meantime, we are writing to ask you, in the interests of public health, environmental justice and safety, to order your administration to suspend the approval of new air pollution permits that would increase. or otherwise contribute to New Mexico’s serious ozone problem, ” read the letter of July 15.
“Specifically, we call on you to order the Department of the Environment to withhold approval of permits for new or modified oil and gas facilities where ozone-forming pollution emissions would increase.”
The letter was signed by 14 environmental groups, including statewide organizations like the WildEarth Guardians of Santa Fe and local advocates like Citizens Caring for the Future of Carlsbad.
The groups pointed to high levels of ozone in rural areas such as mining occurs, such as in the Permian Basin to the southeast and the San Juan Basin to the northwest.
Urban areas tend to be the ones with the highest ozone, the letter reads, due to heavier car traffic and other human activities.
But increases in more remote areas, the letter explained, meant mining was to blame as well.
“While ozone is normally a problem in large cities, air quality monitors across New Mexico have recorded high ozone levels largely due to air pollution. uncontrolled due to oil and gas extraction, “the letter read. “Because ozone affects entire regions, this heavy ozone pollution harms virtually everyone in New Mexico. “
Federal Environmental Protection Agency records showed that exceedances of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) were widespread in New Mexico this year, with many days in Carlsbad and d ‘other extraction areas greater than the maximum of 70 parts per billion (ppb).
Carlsbad has recorded seven days of ozone above the NAAQS this year, according to records, more than the major cities of Albuquerque and Las Cruces. Farmington in the San Juan Basin was one day older than the NAAQS, according to EPA data.
“It is telling that this region is the location of the state’s most intensive oil and gas extraction activity,” the letter read. “New Mexico clearly needs relief from this dangerous air pollution as new rules are under consideration to control emissions.”
At the federal level, the Biden administration was criticized last week for its continued issuance of drilling permits under the Home Office and agencies like the Bureau of Land Management.
Records show more than 2,000 of those permits have been approved since Biden took office in January, more than half of which have gone to New Mexico.
More than half of New Mexico’s oil and gas production occurs on federal land, and many feared the state would be the most affected by federal politics after the Biden administration suspended new federal leases nationwide oil and gas market as the DOI conducts a review of its fossil fuel program.
“A federal lease moratorium is in effect a blockade around the New Mexico economy, impacting our state more than any other in the country,” read a statement from the New Mexico Oil trading group and Gas Association on the promulgation of the moratorium.
Should the ban become permanent, an NMOGA analysis warned against a loss of 62,000 jobs statewide by next year, and Lujan Grisham signaled that she would seek a waiver from the federal government for such a decision based on the state’s efforts to mitigate climate change through rule-making at the NMED and the EMHRN.
But Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity said Biden made a commitment to tackle fossil fuel pollution during the election campaign and that the continued permitting violated that promise.
“Our planet, our livelihoods and our survival systems are in grave danger. We’re out of time, ”McKinnon said. “We cannot tackle the climate crisis while continuing to expand fossil fuel extraction. President Biden has vowed to end federal leases and drilling for good reason. We must keep him on his promise.
At a July 14 meeting of the State Environmental Council, Lujan Grisham touted New Mexico’s efforts on climate change even as the state saw record levels of oil production, surpassing the North Dakota in March for the first time in about a decade.
Lujan Grisham highlighted legislation to create a clean fuel standard for cars and trucks, while working at the state level to diversify its economy away from dependence on oil and gas.
“New Mexico serves as a shining example for other states and countries,” she said. “If other states and countries are looking for a model of climate action to follow, look to New Mexico. “
Oil and gas advocates criticized Lujan Grisham’s remarks, citing rising unemployment in the state and saying efforts to encourage renewables would lead to higher electricity costs.
“Governor’s Green Program is pushing eclectic rates up faster than the national average at a time when New Mexico’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the country,” said Larry Behrens, Director of Western States based in Santa Fe with Power the Future.
“Working families in New Mexico are being forced to pay for the failure of the governor’s green program and no state should follow suit. “
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.