The New Mexico Department of the Environment (NMED) does not have the authority to deny licenses to companies for oil and gas facilities due to concerns about the impacts on already high levels of ozone in counties of ‘Eddy and Lea, according to an NMED spokesperson.
Ozone levels in Eddy and Lea counties are in violation of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQS) standards, while levels of ozone in five other counties in the state – concentrated in the state’s two oil and gas production areas in the northwest and southeast are at 95 percent of the NAAQ standard.
Environmental organization WildEarth Guardians has filed challenges against permits authorized by NMED, arguing that the department is breaking state law by continuing to issue permits for new oil and gas facilities that will contribute to a growing problem of air quality in the Permian Basin. WildEarth Guardians argued in its appeals that the NMED had approved three permits and one natural gas plant “without considering the cumulative impacts on air quality and the subsequent impact on public health.”
State law states that NMED will “deny any application for a permit or permit review” if, upon reviewing the emissions after the checks, permit activity “will cause or contribute to air contaminant levels. higher than any national ambient or New Mexico air quality standard. air quality standard. “
“It’s a pretty straightforward requirement,” he says, “if there’s a problem, don’t make it worse,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director at WildEarth Guardians. NM Policy Report.
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But NMED said NM Policy Report that ozone levels are not always taken into account in permit approvals for oil and gas installations.
Ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrous oxides (NOX) are exposed to the sun and warmer temperatures. While oil and gas installations are known sources of VOCs and NOX emissions, these ozone precursor pollutants are regulated differently from other air contaminants considered in the NAAQS.
“These sources are classified as major or minor, depending on the amount of pollutants they emit (in tonnes per year),” the NMED said in an email. Permit applications for installations identified as “major” sources of VOCs and NOsX generally include air quality monitoring “to see how emissions will impact ozone formation in the area where the source is located,” the ministry said, but no modeling is done for them. minor sources on a facility-by-facility basis.
Instead, the NMED said it was using “protocols and guidelines developed by the EPA to determine whether emissions from these sources reach significant levels considered to be contributing to ozone concentrations.”
Modeling ozone formation is more complex than modeling for other types of air contaminants because ozone is not directly emitted, but rather the result of chemical reactions related to VOCs and NOX emissions and sunlight.
Soufi Mustafa, head of the emission modeling and inventory unit at NMED’s office of air quality, said ozone formation should be assessed against sources of emissions located “at hundreds of kilometers ”that could also contribute to the formation of ozone in New Mexico, in his submitted testimony. to the Council for the Improvement of the Environment, which processes appeals for permit applications for NMED under the state’s Air Quality Control Act.
“Predicting the contribution of an individual facility to ozone levels in an area is extremely difficult compared to the pollutants directly emitted,” Mustafa said in the testimony, adding that the NMED modeling guidelines do not require modeling of the l Source specific ozone for minor sources.
“None of the sources whose permits are contested by [WildEarth Guardians] have emissions that reach these significant levels, ”the ministry said. NM Policy Report. “Thus, there is no technical or scientific evidence that these sources would cause or contribute to violations of the ozone NAAQS, and therefore no legitimate basis on which NMED could deny these permit applications.”
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In one Twitter feed Posted Aug. 5, the NMED called the WildEarth Guardians litigation “misguided” and said the challenges “are delaying New Mexico’s progress in passing new oil and gas rules” that limit the methane, VOCs and NOX emissions.
“Any litigation that will not improve air quality is misguided,” the ministry said NM Policy Report. “Ozone regulation is done on a regional basis and not on a permit-by-permit basis; this is true in every state across the country – not a single state approaches ozone regulation in the way [WildEarth Guardians’] litigation argues that NMED should. “
The ministry also asserted that the licensing challenges “are blocking the resources of NMED and the [Environmental Improvement] Board.”
“The numerous lawsuits brought by [WildEarth Guardians] will take countless hours of more meaningful work that could be done to protect New Mexico’s air quality, including drafting effective regulations for the oil and gas industry, bringing those rules to the EIB, and their defense against what is sure to be sophisticated and heavily funded industry challenges, ”the department said, highlighting budget cuts and staff reductions over the past 10 years, and citing“ legal resources and important techniques involved in litigation defense ”brought by WildEarth Guardians.
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Nichols said the purpose of the dispute was to “hold them accountable for their requirements in their national regulations.”
“All of these challenges that we raise come from the fact that the ozone monitors in Lea [County] and Eddy County violate ambient air quality standards, ”he said. “It’s a big problem for public health. It’s a crisis.
The NMED recently released draft rules aimed at reducing VOCs and NOX emissions. The state has also launched an ozone level initiative to help reduce ozone levels in the seven counties that are currently experiencing high ozone levels.
Nichols criticized the ministry for continuing to approve permits for new sources of pollution in areas where air quality already does not meet national standards.
“The NMED continues to offer new permits,” Nichols said. “We have submitted and will continue to submit many new comments on the permits, as the Environment Department just doesn’t seem to be slowing things down. If anything, they seem to continue to allow the oil and gas industry at a breakneck pace.
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