June 30–Extraction of both crude oil and natural gas continues to expand in the Carlsbad area and southern Eddy County.
The increased operations could bring more danger to the environment, but oil and gas leaders said technological improvements devised by the industry could allay such risks.
Seven Loving-area extraction facilities were accused by a national environmentalist group of leaking potentially fatal hydrocarbons into the air during operations.
Washington D.C.-based Earthworks filed the complaints for each facilities with the New Mexico Environment Department on June 22.
NMED will potentially conduct its own investigation to evaluate the claims, said Nathalie Eddy, New Mexico and Colorado field organizer with Earthworks.
Eddy said the organization did not hear back from NMED as of Friday.
“We’re in a holding pattern. We haven’t heard back,” she said. “I’ve never heard back from (NMED). It’s usually me calling them.”
She said the State of New Mexico has been slower to respond than other states such as Colorado where Earthworks has filed similar complaints.
The organization intends to return to southeast New Mexico, said Earthworks spokeswoman Hilary Lewis, to follow up on the complaints and see if the reported leaks were fixed.
Earthworks used Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) GF320 cameras, set up to detect hydrocarbons by being calibrated to the narrow part of the light spectrum that only shows the possibly dangerous gas.
Hydrocarbons are a primary part of the oil and gas pulled up from underground New Mexico, and can cause illness and even death through long-term exposure.
Video footage filmed on June 4 and released a week later by Earthworks showed the facilities during the day, seemingly operating as intended.
But when the infrared was turned on, black or gray smoke revealed the leaks, said Earthworks thermographer Sharon Wilson.
“The plume dissipation into ambient temperature shows gases dispersing beyond the heat plume and into the air,” read the complaint against Enterprise Products’South Carlsbad Compressor Station in Loving.
Enterprise did not return a request for comment on Friday.
“Beyond the heat (which the FLIR shows as a white plume around the exhaust stack) gases are visible, as the temperature spot meter shows a relatively consistent background temperature even as a substantial gas plume is visible.”
The complaint argued that the gasses released, aside from heat, were hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds (VOC) escaping combustion.
“The very large non-thermogenic hydrocarbon and VOC plume, appears to be vapors,” read the complaint. “The vapors show a consistent background ambient temperature which indicates the presence of gases.”
Similar complaints were filed against well sites owned by Matador Resources, COG Operating — a subsidiary of Concho Resources, and three owned by Mewbourne Oil Company.
Mewbourne did not return a request for comment.
Another site listed in the complaints was Sendero Midstream’s Pecos Compressor Station, which celebrated its grand opening in May in Loving.
The company is looking to add four more facilities in the area, and Chief Executive Officer Clay Bretches said he was unaware of any leaks at the new facility, and addressed it immediately.
Bretches watched the video during an interview with the Current-Argus on June 22, and said personnel found no leaks and concluded a pressure valve was released, venting hydrocarbons into the air.
“We went out there to look, and we didn’t’ find anything that was leaking,” Bretches said. “It had to have been an event where the tank was pressured up and it released so it wouldn’t blow up.”
In response to the event, Bretches said his Sendero engineers were devising alternative methods of providing pressure relief while also avoiding atmospheric venting.
“What we want is to make sure we aren’t venting into the atmosphere,” he said. “We’re looking at different alternatives so we can maintain pressure relief, but not vent into the atmosphere. That’s the best-case scenario. That’s what our engineers are working on right now.”
Sendero is committed to environmentally conscience production, Bretches said.
He said he intends to increase the frequency of leak inspections which are already conducted on a quarterly basis.
“My objective is to build a plant that is as environmentally friendly as possible,” he said. “I was very concerned (by the footage). That’s not how we do business. That’s unacceptable.”
The complaints come amid a study released by the Environmental Defense Fund via the journal Science that reported methane emissions could be almost twice that reflected in previous research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association questioned the merit of such findings, while challenging the credibility of Earthworks and similar practices.
“There is a strong commitment to reduce methane emissions and do everything we can to reduce the environmental footprint,” McEntyre said. “Technology has gotten us to historically low emissions.”
He said emissions have declined significantly in recent years, even as operations grow in the Permian Basin in southeast New Mexico.
Technological advances allowed operators to better identify potential leaks, mitigate them, and engage in stronger gas-capturing practices, McEntyre said.
“Technology has got us to historically low emissions,” he said. “We have to continue to innovate and find solutions.”
Government regulations, McEntyre said, are often duplicative and cost-preventative for operators.
The recently rescinded federal Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation rule, also known as the Venting and Flaring, or Methane Rule would have increased costs for producers, McEntyre said, and been detrimental to New Mexico’s industry.
The best solutions, he said, come from the industry itself.
“A one-size-fits-all approach would only limit growth, and make American oil and gas production less attractive,” he said. “We totally support reducing emissions. Industry drives it.”
To see the video footage shot by Earthworks, go to currentargus.com.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
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