Report: NMED ignored more than half of formal public complaints about oil & gas air pollution

3yr investigation shows state’s incapacity to oversee oil & gas industry threatens health & climate

Sept 16 — A three-year investigation shows that the New Mexico Environmental Department ignored 60 of the 108 regulatory complaints about oil and gas air pollution filed by Earthworks. The product of a three year investigation of NMED’s regulatory capacity and responsiveness, Loud and Clear: what public regulation complaints reveal about New Mexico’s oversight of oil and gas pollution and whom it serves, demonstrates that NMED–despite issuing several high-profile penalties for environmental violations–currently has insufficient oversight resources to protect health and climate and to enforce rules to reduce pollution impacts. It also documents significant gaps in how the state tracks and addresses oil and gas pollution.

“Governor Lujan Grisham, State Land Commissioner Garcia Richard, and Secretary Kenney all have committed to climate goals and new rules to reduce oil and gas pollution,” said Nathalie Eddy, Earthworks Field Advocate for New Mexico and co-author of the report. “But our investigations and data show New Mexico must do much more to ensure that communities are heard and protected and that industry is held accountable for harm.”

From 2018-2020, Earthworks’ certified thermographers recorded optical gas imaging video of otherwise invisible air pollution — methane and toxic volatile organic compounds — on 300 visits to over 200 oil and gas production sites in New Mexico. Earthworks staff used that evidence to file 108 complaints with NMED, only 9 of which resulted in any reduction of oil and gas pollution, while over 60 were ignored. One-third of Earthworks’ filed complaints remain open.

“Earthworks should not have to do the work of regulators in New Mexico,” said Nadia Steinzor, Manager of Earthworks Community Empowerment Project and co-author of the report. “NMED has only one camera to detect oil and gas pollution, no trained thermographers, and even fewer inspectors than when we wrote this report. NMED and the Oil Conservation Division both need far more resources to oversee the industry and live up to the current Administration’s promises.”

NMED and OCD have proposed two rules that could, if improved, do more to reduce oil and gas pollution and protect the health of New Mexicans. The OCD rule is a commonsense approach to limit flaring and venting, a practice that wastes large volumes of gas while harming health and the climate. The NMED rule to constrain health-harming ozone is critical, but in its current form is inadequate because it excludes 95% of oil and gas wells from requirements to maintain equipment and reduce pollution.

“The disconnect between New Mexico’s climate goals and the reality of expanding oil and gas pollution is widening at the expense of New Mexican’s health and safety,” said Eddy.

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