Oil company agrees to pay fine and take on projects to reduce air pollution

By: - August 11, 2023 4:00 am

With growth across the West expected to continue, lawmakers from Colorado to New Mexico to Texas have passed laws since 2019 requiring consortiums of energy officials, scientists, regulators and others to figure out how to reuse and recycle contaminated frack water. (Photo by Charles O’Rear / Getty Images)

An oil company with wells in both New Mexico and Texas has agreed to pay a $5.5 million penalty to the U.S. and New Mexico in a settlement over violations to the Clean Air Act and New Mexico state law. The company is also on the hook for $4.6 million in projects to reduce air pollution.

State officials worry a lack of personnel could keep them from assuring the company complies.

The civil complaint filed by the U.S. on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico Environmental Department alleges that Mewbourne Oil Company did not obtain required permits, control air emissions or comply with inspection requirements at more than 100 oil and gas production operations in the two states.

Cindy Hollenberg heads compliance and enforcement for NMED and said support from federal agencies has been crucial not just to the case, but to the plane inspections that led to it.

“We’ve had various efforts with EPA taking the lead on EPA flyovers. Those will continue possibly altering our approach to some inspections to include more of these facilities,” she said.

She also said her staff doesn’t have the capacity to do this work on its own, and will be spread thin making sure Mewbourne follows through on its obligations.

“Our number of staff that we have dedicated to this work is not a sufficient number to inspect the scope and the breadth and the number of facilities that we have within our jurisdiction,” she said.

Mewbourne General Counsel Regan Butts told the Carlsbad Current Argus that since a 2019 inspection, the company has worked to reduce environmental impacts.

“Mewbourne Oil Company has operated in a safe and environmentally responsible manner for more than 55 years, and we remain committed to doing so for decades to come,” Butts said.

NMED fined another oil company, Ameredev, over $40 million for similar violations in June. That company requested a hearing on the penalty for which no date has been set yet.

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Megan Myscofski
Megan Myscofski

Megan Myscofski is a reporter with KUNM's Poverty and Public Health Project. She previously worked as a Business and Economics Reporter at Arizona Public Media, where she also reported, produced and hosted a narrative podcast, Tapped, on the cost of drought in Arizona. Before that, she was a reporter and host at Montana Public Radio and an intern on the podcast "Threshold". Her first audio journalism internship was in Essen, Germany as a high school exchange student.