When oil and gas are extracted from underground, substantial quantities of highly contaminated water (called "Produced Water") comes along with the product. Oil and gas producers find disposal of this waste water to be expensive. New Mexico needs more clean the water. A 2019 "Produced Water Act" seeks rules to govern if and how produced water can become useful in New Mexico.
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Description of the Issue
Produced water is the oil and gas euphemism for oil and gas drilling and production wastewater. This wastewater includes flowback of the fluid pumped into wells for hydraulic fracturing and the ancient, highly saline water that has been in contact with oil and gas in the geologic formations tapped by drilling, for eons. Hydraulic fracturing fluid contains many toxic additives, some secret. The ancient waters are generally three times as salty as the ocean and are highly contaminated with oil and gas hydrocarbons and unknown radioactivity.
Data to characterize and understand the contaminants and toxins in this wastewater are not readily publicly available. Some data are considered proprietary by the oil and gas industry.
Data regarding the self-reported volume of oil and gas wastewater produced annually and data regarding self-reported wastewater spills are available on the statistics page of the NM Oil Conservation Division website. The Oil Conservation Division does not compile and present these data in a manner that is meaningful to the public.
Selected compiled data appears in the graphics below. The graphics were generated by downloading data from the statistics page and using Microsoft Excel to produce the charts.
The 2019 Produced Water Act authoried the Oil Conservation Division of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department to put rules into effect to regulate produced water within the oil field in a manner that would "protect public health, the environment, and fresh water resources." No such regulations have been proposed or exist.
The 2019 New Mexico Produced Water Act was formed by a last-minute political compromise that merged two unrelated bills. One bill would have restored the authority--removed during the previous administration--of the State Oil Conservation Division's ability to fine the oil and gas industry to enforce against violations of its rules. The other bill was written by oil and gas industry lawyers seeking to dispose of oil and gas wastewater through use of the waste by others.
The Albuquerque Journal published an August 9. 2020 guest editorial by Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Norm Gaume that summarizes produced water facts and needed changes in state law and regulation. https://www.abqjournal.com/1484490/state-regulations-on-toxic-oil-and-gas-wastewater-are-leaky-at-best.html