Commentary: On January 5, a large group of New Mexico citizen groups submitted comments to the New Mexico Environment Department on its revised draft general construction permit for oil and gas facilities. The signatories of the comments believe this permitting proposal would constitute some of the weakest oil and gas air quality regulations in the country, for which NMED designated a permit review and comment period of an astonishingly minuscule four business days over the New Year holiday, ending today. The draft permit is 15,918 words long.
The pollutants to be covered by these permits include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), particulates, and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), but would exclude methane emissions. The draft permit would also fail to establish maximum emission limits or performance standards for oil and gas sources. Instead, each source would guess its expected emissions and then choose which control devices to install.
This proposed permit contrasts with neighboring states, which are improving controls for oil and gas air pollution. Colorado enacted the nation’s first methane rule for oil and gas wells in 2014 and recently strengthened those protections. Utah has just finalized a new, more modern system for reducing oil and gas pollution in the state. Alarmingly however, this also comes as the presidential administration is rolling back federal oil and gas air pollution limits on the industry, which could have a large negative impact on New Mexico’s extensive public lands.
The Martinez administration's proposed permit flies in the face of a nationally embarrassing Delaware-sized cloud of methane pollution hovering over northwestern New Mexico that NASA and other researchers have repeatedly demonstrated results primarily from oil and gas development. When oil and gas facilities emit methane, they also emit the other harmful pollutants covered by this draft permit that increase smog, trigger asthma attacks and increase cancer risk. New Mexicans deserve reasonable clean air protections at the state and federal level that reduce pollution and waste of our natural resources.
In their comments, the citizen groups wrote: "On its way out the door, the Martinez administration is attempting to ram through a gift to the oil and gas industry –the weakest air protections in the nation… [W]e request that NMED rescind and thoroughly revise this proposal incorporating current best practices for limiting harmful air pollution (including methane) from oil and gas sources."
After the comment period closes on Jan. 5, NMED will hold a public hearing to discuss this matter at 9:00am on Feb. 12 at 525 Camino de los Marquez, Suite 1 in Santa Fe.