Talon News - Good Local News



April 28, 2017

The overarching conclusion is that the Clean Air Act is working to improve our air quality and health, and we can see the improvements right here in New Mexico in our oil and gas regions.

Thanks to Clean Air Act enforcement and improvements, San Juan County, along with several others, gets a C for ozone, up from an F in the last report.

Ozone, synonymous with smog, is a major contributing factor to respiratory disease. Ozone pollution is formed by reactions between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrous oxides in sunlight. San Juan County contains and is surrounded by more than 40,000 oil and gas wells, which emit VOCs alongside methane, and two coal-fired power plants, which emit nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and other particulates.

This year’s report looks at 2013-2015, dropping 2012’s data and adding 2015, which was a much cleaner year. The results show that, thanks to the Clean Air Act, northwest New Mexico’s air is getting cleaner. There are several potential reasons for this:

Four Corners Power Plant has stopped running three of its coal-burning stacks because of economic reasons and Clean Air Act compliance.

A consent decree in response to legal action by EPA, Sierra Club, Dine CARE and other environmental groups required Four Corners Power Plant owners to reduce nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter in the area through retrofits and pollution reductions at the plant as well as replacing and retrofitting older and inefficient wood stoves on the Navajo Nation and weatherizing homes.

Implementation of Colorado oil and gas rules reducing methane — and simultaneously VOC — pollution.

The EPA put green completion standards into effect on January 1, 2015, on new oil and gas wells.

Replacement of older, dirtier vehicles with cleaner vehicles.

The area has added a significant percentage of renewables — solar and wind replacing combustion electricity.

The strides taken to reduce methane and VOC pollution in Colorado and nitrous-oxide pollution at the Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station are working. Despite these improvements, there is a long way to go. In 2014, NASA discovered a methane hotspot hovering over the San Juan Basin. With stronger methane-pollution standards and continued nitrous-oxide reductions, we can continue improving our air-quality grades.

Although this year’s report also showed an improved grade in Eddy County, the Permian Basin in Southeast New Mexico is a new focus for expanded, large-scale oil and gas extraction. To avoid increased pollution and associated health impacts, operators should implement the best methane-capture technology possible or run the risk of bringing the grade back down.


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