U.S. orders company to pay $5.5 million and reduce unlawful air pollution from oil and gas wells

August 16, 2023

(United States)
Mewbourne Oil Company (Mewbourne) has agreed to pay a $5.5 million penalty and undertake projects expected to cost at least $4.6 million to ensure 422 of its oil and gas well pads in New Mexico and Texas comply with state and federal clean air regulations and offset past illegal emissions.

These terms are in settlement of claims alleged in a civil complaint, filed jointly by the United States, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), which alleges that, at more than 100 of its oil and gas production operations in New Mexico and Texas, Mewbourne:

  • Failed to obtain required state and federal permits.
  • Failed to capture and control air emissions from storage vessels.
  • Failed to comply with inspection, monitoring and recordkeeping requirements.

EPA and NMED identified the alleged violations through field investigations and repeated flyover surveillance conducted in 2019, 2020, and 2022. Mewbourne’s actions taken pursuant to the deal will eliminate more than 11,000 tonnes of harmful pollutants from the air each year.

In addition to paying a $5.5 million fine, to be shared equally by the United States and the State of New Mexico, the consent decree, filed together with the complaint, requires the company to take numerous steps to ensure that 422 well pads covered by the Decree and located in New Mexico and Texas are operated lawfully. New Mexico’s portion of the fines will be sent to the State of New Mexico’s general fund.

Mewbourne will spend at least $3.6 million to implement extensive design, operation, maintenance, and monitoring improvements, including installing new tank pressure monitoring systems that will provide advance notification of potential emissions and allow for immediate response action by the company.

Mewbourne’s compliance with the consent decree will result in annual reductions of more than 9,900 tonnes of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 1,300 tonnes of methane. In addition, as a co-benefit of these reductions, the consent decree will result in significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing methane.

Mewbourne will also spend at least $1 million to offset the harm caused by the alleged violations by replacing over 2,000 pollutant-emitting pneumatic devices with non-emitting devices on an accelerated schedule. This offset project will reduce VOC emissions over 15 years by approximately 4,500 tonnes beyond that required by existing regulation.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for criteria pollutants that are considered harmful to public health and the environment. Ozone is a criteria pollutant that is created when oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and VOC react in the atmosphere. VOC and NOx are emitted by oil and gas production facilities, such as those operated by Mewbourne. During the timeframes of Mewbourne’s alleged violations, air quality monitors in the relevant counties in New Mexico registered rising ozone concentrations exceeding 95% of the NAAQS for ozone. In counties where ozone levels reach 95% of the NAAQS, NMED is required by New Mexico state statute to take action to reduce ozone pollution.

This is valid as of 16th August 2023.

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