A natural gas company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma was fined $1.3 million by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and agreed to permanently shut down a facility near Jal, New Mexico.
ETC Texas Pipeline was accused of violating its permit in emitting air pollution from the natural gas process plant, known as the Jal No. 3 Plant and entered a settlement with NMED which was announced Monday.
The company did not return multiple requests for comment from the Current-Argus since the settlement was announced.
NMED cited ETC for illegally emitting more than 3.1 million pounds of pollutants from the facility, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide between Jan. 1, 2017 and Aug. 31, 2018, records show.
The agreement between the company and the State included the $1.3 million civil penalty and ETC was required to permanently close its sulfur recovery unit, which NMED reported would eliminate 1,200 tons per year of pollutants in southeast New Mexico – a region known for heavy oil and gas extraction in the Permian Basin.
Parent company Energy Transfer Partners was previously assessed a fine of $4 million by NMED in September 2020 for the emissions, but the initial order did not include closing the facility.
The fine will be reverted to the State of New Mexico’s General Fund.
The emission of VOCs and other pollutants can lead to the formation of ground-level ozone, an air pollutant known to cause cancer and other respirator illnesses.
Eddy and Lea counties in New Mexico’s main oil-producing region in the southeast corner of the state where identified by the NMED as having ozone levels more than federal standards.
“There is no denying that unless the Department adopts the strongest emission rules possible to protect air quality and continues to vigorously hold polluters like ETC Texas Pipeline accountable for their egregious emissions violations – our air quality will deteriorate further resulting in federal sanctions due to unhealthy air quality levels,” said NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney.
“A strong enforcement response deters future violations and levels the playing field for those businesses whose investors and shareholders take environmental compliance seriously.”
Tougher emission restrictions on oil and gas producers developed by State
Along with tougher enforcement intended to deter air pollution from oil and gas companies, NMED embarked recently on developing stricter regulations to curb the release of ozone precursors into the air from energy companies.
The ozone rules would follow regulations enacted earlier this year by the Oil Conservation Division (OCD) – an arm of New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department – which ended routine flaring, or the burning of excess gas, outlawed spills and releases of pollutants, and required energy companies capture 98 percent of produced gas by 2026.
The NMED planned to present its ozone rules before the Environmental Improvement Board during a public meeting on Sept. 20 for public discussion and a potential vote by the board for approval.
If implemented, the rules were believed to cut emissions from the oil and gas industry by about 260 million pounds each year.
NMED recently removed a controversial clause in the rules alleged to exempt low-performing or “stripper” wells from the new requirements.
Companies will be required to conduct leak detection at least monthly while repairing most gas leaks within 15 days and maintaining compliance records.
It also adds similar requirements to processes like well work overs, liquid unloading and pig launching.
Operators must also report all emissions from their facilities, and have them certified by a professional engineer.
The rules were developed in the last two years with input from the oil and gas industry, environmentalists, and other stakeholders.
Chairman of industry trade group the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Leland Gould said producers were committed to reducing pollution and working with the state on regulations.
“NMOGA and our members are committed to protecting the health and environment of the communities where we operate, and we support sound, science-based regulations to reduce methane emissions and ozone levels,” he said.
What is ozone?
Pollution is an ongoing problem in our world today. Take a look at ozone gas and the effects it can have around you.
Noah Lau, The Republic | azcentral.com
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.