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Earthworks’ Community Empowerment Project has documented air pollution from hundreds of oil and gas operations nationwide. Some facilities are such persistent polluters that their story can only be told in detail.  

We first filmed the Enterprise Products South Carlsbad compressor station in July 2017. Since then, we have visited this site 8 times, recording the release of pollution during every visit using Optical Gas Imaging. We also submitted multiple air quality complaints to the New Mexico Environment Department. To date, the state agency has taken no action to investigate or address the documented pollution.

Enterprise Products, South Carlsbad Compressor Station
Loving, Eddy County, NM

In August 2018, Earthworks hosted a community meeting regarding local air quality and oil and gas air pollution in Carlsbad, NM. We had the good fortune of meeting  a family that lives near the Enterprise Products compressor station, and generously shared stories of their recent health problems and concerns about pollution from the facility. We stayed in touch, sharing with them a particularly intense emissions release our captured on video in September.

Earthworks staff hosting a community meeting in Carlsbad, NM. August 2018.

Just a few weeks after this video was filmed, the family reached out again reporting that the facility’s emergency lights and sirens had gone off, indicating something may have gone wrong at the site. Understandably, they were concerned about another large release of pollution and potential impacts on their health. They scrambled to try and find a local doctor who could conduct a blood test to  determine any presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their bloodstream, possible evidence that they had been exposed to the pollution from the nearby compressor station. Unfortunately, they were unable to find any local laboratories with the equipment to process a VOC blood test in Carlsbad, despite the heavy presence of oil and gas in the area. Obtaining the test would have required them to drive several miles away, and take time off of work and school. By the time this family was able to make the proper arrangements in their busy lives, it had been several days since the emergency event. VOCs only stay in the bloodstream for a short time, and they had missed their window to obtain potential evidence of exposure.

When large emissions releases occur at facilities like the South Carlsbad compressor station, operators are required to file important paperwork that documents the nature of the event. Earthworks staff made several attempts to acquire any relevant documentation, but none was found. We don’t know if Enterprise Products failed to report the pollution releases we’ve documented, or just considered them part of daily “normal operations.” Earthworks staff recently returned to the Enterprise Products compressor station on January 8th and 9th, 2019 and again documented concerning pollution. While not much has changed at the site itself, things are changing in Carlsbad. Community members are calling for to installation and improvement of local air monitors, to gain a better understanding of which pollutants in the air are potentially making them sick. They acknowledge the basic unfairness that the burden to prove these facilities pose a danger to their families falls on them–rather than on the operators causing that harm.

New Mexico’s recent statewide elections have ushered in a new wave of climate and local health champions, including Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is on record that the state must reduce methane and other pollution. New and returning elected officials are also pushing for enhanced air quality monitoring, as well as better oversight on the oil & gas industry. We look forward to continuing to work with our community partners to document the dangers of oil and gas pollution, as well as  state and local officials committed to holding industry accountable and making sure that New Mexicans have the clean air they deserve.

Post by Molly Dunton

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