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NM “STRATEGIC” WATER SUPPLY-
POISONING OUR WELL FOR PRIVATE PROFIT

Fracking waste (aka produced water) from Permian meets the EPA definition for radioactive waste, and contains PFAS, known carcinogens and a cocktail of unknown and untested chemicals. We must ensure that produced water remains illegal for reuse outside the oilfield to ensure that our precious sweetwater aquifers, our rivers, lakes and the acequias that every New Mexican relies on will be protected from contamination. Once a well is poisoned, it is gone for good.

According to Laura Capper, oil and gas industry consultant, “New Mexico needs to find new uses [for produced water] quickly or risk oil production itself.” - Current Argus, July 12, 2023

The oil and gas industry in New Mexico has a problem. It’s not pressure from a Democratic State Government to reduce emissions - its earthquakes.

 

When oil and gas are extracted through hydraulic fracturing - aka fracking - in the Permian basin, each barrel of oil results in 4 -10 barrels of waste, often referred to as “produced water.” Produced water contains significant toxic contaminants known to severely impact human health, radioactive nuclides that cannot be removed through filtration and, especially in New Mexico, extreme levels of salinity that, even if removed from the water, will result in another toxic and radioactive waste product that cannot be easily disposed of. It is a hazardous waste and is not currently permitted for use outside of the oil fields.

 

Oil and gas operators have two choices for disposal - re-use the produced “water” in drilling operations or inject the waste back underground into injection wells. Alternatively they can store the waste in evaporation ponds, ultimately resulting in a concentrated toxic sludge that is being trucked to landfills all over the state.

 

If the Governor and her biggest donor, the oil and gas industry, have their way, the door will soon be opened to another avenue for disposal of their toxic waste -- repackage it as water and sell it for use - aka the "Strategic Water Supply."

In 2022, the oil and gas industry consumed 86,747 acre feet of fresh water and produced 266,160 acre feet of toxic waste, aka “produced water.” This amount would fill 131,270 olympic size swimming pools.

INJECTION WELLS INCREASED EARTHQUAKES IN NM TO 2,404 PER YEAR IN 2022

 

Unfortunately injection wells are resulting in a dangerous increase in seismic activity - 2,404 quakes in 2022. This seismicity increased as oil production continued its steady rise to about 5.7 million bpd as of May 2023. Because New Mexico has never been earthquake prone, our buildings and infrastructure are not constructed to withstand those quakes.

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And because New Mexico lacks capacity to dispose of all the waste it is producing, New Mexico has been sending about half of its produced water, at least 2 million barrels a day, into Texas for disposal. But in December 2023 the Texas Railroad Commission, facing its own earthquake dangers, acted to suspend permits for injection wells in Culberson and Reeves counties along the border of the two states.

 

The oil and gas industry in New Mexico now faces a costly crisis with no immediate solution.

 

Enter the Governor’s Strategic Water Supply plan to use public money to entice private companies to set up desalination and treatment plants that will facilitate extraction from our deep water aquifers and the so-called “beneficial re-use” of toxic fracking waste for industrial uses initially, and ultimately to “recharge freshwater aquifers and otherwise augment the supply of freshwater for communities, farms, aquatic ecosystems, and interstate compact compliance.”

The proposed “Strategic Water Supply” is a dangerous plan to use public money to exploit and poison our water for the private profit of oil and gas executives and shareholders.

Why is the reuse of fracking waste being proposed?

THE PRODUCED WATER ACT OPENED THE DOOR TO PRODUCED WATER REUSE.
UPCOMING RULEMAKINGS CAN CLOSE THAT DOOR

 

The Produced Water Act, legislation spearheaded by the oil and gas industry, passed the NM legislature in 2019 during Governor Lujan Grisham’s first year in office, opening the door to produced water re-use with the creation of the Produced Water Research Consortium and a permitting process for pilot projects to study the re-use of produced water outside the oil field.

 

The director of the Produced Water Consortium, Mike Hightower, noted that the chokepoint created recently by the earthquakes has increased the pressure on the Consortium to move quickly. Upcoming rulemakings at NMED and OCD are being used to set definitions and permitting processes that will pave the way for produced water re-use in agriculture, on our roadways, and in our waterways. Those include:
 

  • Requirements For Water Reuse No. WQCC 23 - 84 (R) at the Water Quality Control Board

  • The Produced Water Discharge Rulemaking at the Oil Conservation Commission

  • The PFAS Rulemaking at New Mexico Environment Department

The first of these rules, the Wastewater Reuse Rule, will be heard at the Water Quality Control Commission on May 13th. You can submit written comment below, or sign up here to give verbal comment in person or online during the public comment portions of the hearing from May 13th to the 17th. Most importantly you can share this information with your friends and family. We need all hands on deck!

Take action to oppose fracking waste reuse

ONCE A WELL IS DRIED UP OR POISONED, IT IS GONE FOR GOOD

 

Climate change is projected to reduce our water supply by 25% in the next 50 years, and New Mexico’s aquifers are a precious, finite resource. They cannot be adequately replenished by rainfall. Endangering the water we do have is foolish in the extreme, risking the very survival of our arid state.

 

Science does not support the Governor’s plan for desalination of our deep brackish water or treatment and re-use of produced water. Among numerous hazardous compounds, produced water may contain PFAS, bromide, arsenic, mercury, barium, radioactive isotopes and organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes. Exposure to these toxic and radioactive substances has been correlated with increased risks of cancer, birth defects, and early death, and the evidence keeps coming:
 

 

Even the Texas Produced Water Consortium admits “there could be residual constituents in the produced water (even after treatment) whose impacts on an intended use may not fully be known at this stage.” We cannot afford to take these risks with our precious water.

 

As communities like La Cieneguilla in Santa Fe County have recently experienced, the contamination of wells with PFAS chemicals, just a few of the known components in fracking fluid, can devastate a community, affecting people’s health, leaving residents dependent on water deliveries and bottled water for household use, and destroying property values.

 

Contamination of our limited potable water is a very real and likely outcome of produced water re-use.

Brackish water in deep, confined aquifers is, in most cases, not a renewable resource. If we extract this water, eventually the supply will be depleted. Land surface subsidence from groundwater extraction in the Central Valley of California has reached up to 30 feet. That water cannot be replaced in aquifer storage because of permanent collapse in the aquifer pore spaces. - New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources

TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT NM WATER

HOW DOES THE DRAFT RULE FAIL TO PROTECT OUR WATER?

● The proposed Wastewater Reuse Rule 23-84, vastly expands produced water reuse to large-scale industrial and demonstration projects off the oil field with no scientifically-based standards for the treatment, handling, or disposal of the toxic and radioactive substance.


● There is no scientific research that supports the treatment of produced water reuse to standards that make it safe for humans or the environment. Meanwhile, extensive research points to the toxicity and hazardous nature of this waste to human and environmental health.


● While the rule prohibits discharge of treated or untreated produced water to ground and surface water there is ample evidence to support the claim that spills will increase with its increased reuse. Further the toxic waste, even more highly concentrated after separation and treatment, from demonstration and industrial projects, poses significant threats to New Mexicans health and safety.


● Requirements for “closed loop” projects and projects that do not plan to discharge into ground and surface water are inadequate protections given the overwhelming evidence of the state’s failure to protect New Mexicans from oil and gas spills and illegal discharges from oil and gas operations, which take place daily throughout the state. For example, in the Permian, 38,741 spills took place in 2022. In
relation to the handling of produced water specifically, 616 produced water spills were reported in 2022 in the Permian and statewide an average of 4 spills takes place per day. The vast majority of spills have been met with no penalty enforcement by state agencies. The transportation and waste disposal associated with large-scale demonstration and industrial projects contemplated in the Rule pose significant additional threats to New Mexico’s waterways, land, and human health.

● Proponent’s contention that there are no circumstances under which produced water, treated or untreated, will contaminate our ground and surface water is flat wrong. The rule itself states that "any release of untreated or treated produced water is subject to the notifications and corrective action in 20.6.2.1203 NMAC...." and further that “if NMED determines that the operator "cause[d or is causing] water pollution in excess of the [as yet undefined] standards then "an abatement plan may be required." There is no assurance that treated or untreated water will NOT impact ground or surface water. This
expansion poses an extreme risk to public health and the environment.


● All use of produced water off the oil field, including any experimental industrial and demonstration reuse projects, should be prohibited unless and until proven standards exist for adequate protections for workers and community members.


● The Water Conservation Commission must comply with the requirements that its rules are based in sound scientific evidence in order to protect public health and the environment.


● This Rule is a bailout of the oil and gas industry’s waste problem - instead of holding the industry accountable for their waste and addressing the problem at its source – the oil and gas production process, this Rule authorizes risky and dangerous experiments to dispose of produced water through “reuse”.


● This Rule should be understood in its political and historical context. It moves forward an energy and water resource management agenda that is devoid of scientific standards and that socializes the risks, costs, and long-term liabilities of dangerous experiments to the public. This rule creates the mechanisms for the state to pursue Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration’s plan to commodify and repackage fracking waste as a new source of “water” and use public funding to subsidize the dangerous experimental use of this toxic waste in commercial enterprises throughout the state under the umbrella of the “Strategic Water Supply” including the subsidization of the production of hydrogen energy - at
great cost and risk to the public good.

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Impacts of the Tragic Water Supply on Our Health and Water

Latest Tragic Water Supply News

The Truth Behind the Governor's Proposal

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her plan for a Strategic Water Supply, whereby $500M ($250M for FY 24) would be designated to buy treated brackish and treated produced water to be used for “clean” energy production and storage. Why is it dangerous?
 

1) The plan is a bailout for the oil and gas industry and proposes the use of public funds for the re-use of produced water, a proposal not grounded in science or evidence. It is intended to help oil and gas producers, particularly in the Permian, to solve their enormous problem with wastewater disposal and allow for continued extraction from the Permian, bleeding New Mexico dry.

2) The plan feeds New Mexico’s addiction to fossil fuels, their byproducts, and the profits associated with them. Rather than placating fossil fuel campaign contributors we need to address New Mexico's acute water issues and protect the health of the public.


3) It greenwashes hydrogen, positioning that energy source as “green,” when in fact more than 98% of hydrogen production is fossil fueled and this plan is intended to help develop a hydrogen industry in New Mexico. 

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BLEEDING NEW MEXICO DRY: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Within weeks of taking office in 2019, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Executive Order 2019-003, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide. It was a decisive gesture that brought hope to New Mexicans eager for a climate leader. Five years later, this pledge has yet to be codified into law and the state is nowhere near achieving the emissions goals that it set out.[i]

 

Meanwhile, under the governor’s leadership and with her explicit support, natural gas production has nearly doubled and oil production has grown by 127 percent.[ii] The governor has gone out of her way to court the oil and gas industry, seeking its “collaboration” in policy matters, and has promised to balance environmental protections with “driving . . . all of our energy industries forward.”[iii] No matter how you spin it, these goals and these actions are at cross purposes.

 

Since the start of her second administration, in 2023, Lujan Grisham has attempted to reconcile the two through an unpopular and ill-fated campaign to build New Mexico’s hydrogen economy – a false solution that will do nothing but further derail our progress toward clean energy. Near the end of the year, at the COP28 climate change conference in Dubai, she capped this effort with the announcement of a plan to develop a “strategic water supply,” using state funds to underwrite the acquisition of treated brackish and produced water for use outside the oil field – another false solution.[iv] She’s couched the plan as an effort to “strengthen our climate resiliency,” “support the nation’s transition to renewable energy” and “protect our precious freshwater resources.”

 

Let us be clear, however: The governor’s strategic water supply plan is not a climate initiative; it is an oil and gas initiative. It serves three interests above all:

 

  1. Oil and gas producers, particularly in the Permian Basin, by helping to solve their problem with wastewater disposal and allowing for continued growth in the Permian.

  2. Hydrogen advocates – most of whom are also tied up in oil and gas – by ostensibly enabling the development of hydrogen, an extremely water-intensive technology, in one of the most water-stressed states in the country.

  3. The governor herself, by promoting her image as a tech-savvy climate leader on the national stage while appeasing an industry whose astronomical growth in recent years has allowed her to preside over a sequence of record-breaking budgets.[v]

 

There is no question that the oil and gas industry should be prohibited from utilizing New Mexico’s dwindling freshwater resources. But this can and should be achieved through a ban written into a long-awaited update to the state’s Oil and Gas Act, not by incentivizing voluntary action.[vi] Rep. Debra Sarinana (D-21) has sponsored a bill with just such a ban (HB 30) in the current session, along with a bill that would increase penalties for spills and leaks of produced water and require companies to make public the chemical composition of spilled produced water (HB 31), both of which they have long resisted.[vii] Protecting our water supply is not what the governor’s “strategic water supply” plan is about.

 

In this report, we analyze campaign contributions, meeting schedules, public records and press reports to illuminate the paths of influence and association that lie behind the governor’s produced water plan. They are many, and nearly all lead back to fossil fuels. Our key findings:

 

The governor has benefited significantly from oil and gas industry support.

  • Between 2017 and 2022, Lujan Grisham received at least $1.38 million in campaign contributions from energy-related interests. Sixty-four percent of this total – $882,100 – came from entities primarily engaged in or associated with oil and gas production.

  • Between Lujan Grisham’s first and second elections, her energy sector contributions grew by more than 100 percent. Her oil and gas industry contributions grew by 75 percent. In other words, Lujan Grisham went into her second administration with twice the energy-related money she had going into her first administration.

  • Energy sector interests have also made use of Lujan Grisham’s two inauguration committees to make additional, unregulated contributions. These amounted to at least $78,700 in 2018 and $89,000 in 2022.

  • These contributions have succeeded in buying the industry access. Lujan Grisham’s public calendar lists more than 130 meetings with energy-related interests going back to 2019. Just over half of these (51 percent) were with oil and gas interests; another 21 percent were with electric utilities and 5 percent were with hydrogen interests. Only 16 percent were with renewables interests.

  • Nearly all the governor’s top oil and gas contributors have expanded their operations in the Permian significantly in recent years through acquisitions totaling hundreds of billions of dollars, and several have announced plans for continued growth in the coming decade. 

 

The oil and gas industry has been pushing produced water initiatives from the beginning.

  • Wastewater disposal is a major problem for oil and gas producers in the Permian Basin due to the current shortage of in-state disposal options. Most produced water originating in New Mexico is transported out of state to injection wells in Texas. Texas has begun to limit the practice due to an increase in seismic activity – raising the prospect of a crisis for producers in New Mexico.

  • Oil and gas interests shaped the 2019 Produced Water Act, which set the groundwork for the governor’s current initiative. Marathon Oil boasts on its website of having “spearheaded” the legislation.

  • The Produced Water Act was a key factor in Lujan Grisham’s winning over of oil and gas interests. A Marathon Oil executive stated publicly after its passage, “The policies pursued by the administration in 2019 demonstrate that the Governor’s Office seeks to promote both development and sustainability within the Permian Basin.”[viii]

  • The New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium (NMPWRC), established by the New Mexico Environment Department and New Mexico State University to “develop a framework to fill scientific and technical knowledge gaps necessary to establish regulations and policies for the treatment of produced water,” is industry funded, and most of its members are industry players.

  • The governor’s top oil and gas donors are well represented in the NMPWRC as well as in produced water trade groups, often as top-level sponsors. This is an issue they are actively prioritizing.

 

The oil and gas industry is also leading the push for a hydrogen economy, which relies on the prospect of produced water.

  • The development of a hydrogen economy in New Mexico has become a signature issue for the governor in her second term, despite resistance from a majority of environmental advocates.

  • Hydrogen serves the interests of natural gas, and most of the key players in the governor’s hydrogen program have ties to the natural gas. Many are also major donors to Lujan Grisham’s campaigns.

  • Hydrogen research was an item on the budget of the NMPWRC as early as 2021.

 

Using public funds to incentivize the commercial treatment of oil and gas wastewater is not a climate solution. It is a handout to oil and gas companies looking for ways to dispose of their toxic waste while meanwhile creating more and more of it. It is also a left-field attempt to prop up a technology – hydrogen – that has no future in New Mexico without a ready supply of water. 

 

The real threat to our climate resiliency, our transition to renewable energy and our precious freshwater resources is the oil and gas industry’s current practices, including its insistence on growth at all costs in the Permian Basin. Oil and gas companies could choose to be climate leaders themselves, but they have not. The real solution – the only solution – is putting an end to new oil and gas development; immediately phasing out fossil fuel sources; building out clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar; and ensuring a just transition for impacted communities.

 

[i] Alex DeGolia, “New Mexico Is Off Course for Reaching Its Climate Goals, but There’s Enormous Opportunity for Action,” Environmental Defense Fund, September 11, 2023.

[ii] Production totals for the period between January 2019 and October 2023 (the most recent available). U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Petroleum & Other Liquids: New Mexico Field Production of Crude Oil,” https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MCRFPNM1&f=M. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Natural Gas: New Mexico Natural Gas Marketed Production,” https://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/n9050nm2m.htm.

[iii] Adrian Hedden, “New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham calls for unity with oil and gas in climate goals,” Carlsbad Current Argus, October 6, 2021.

[iv] “Gov. Lujan Grisham to Establish First-of-Its-Kind Strategic Water Supply – $500 Million Investment Will Leverage Advanced Market Commitments” (press release), Office of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, December 5, 2023.

[v] “State of New Mexico Budget in Brief, Fiscal Year 2024,” New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration, April 11, 2023. https://www.nmdfa.state.nm.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/FY24-Budget-In-Brief-FINAL.pdf

[vi] Jerry Redfern, “New Mexico Governor Kickstarts Effort to Overhaul Oil and Gas Regulation,” Capital & Main, December 5, 2023.

[vii] Adrian Hedden, “Top Oil and Gas Bills to Watch During New Mexico’s 2024 Legislative Session,” Carlsbad Current Argus, January 10, 2024. “Fracking With ‘Forever Chemicals’ in New Mexico,” Physicians for Social Responsibility, April 12, 2023, p. 12. https://psr.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/fracking-with-forever-chemicals-in-new-mexico.pdf

[viii] Adrian Hedden, “New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Vows to Collaborate With Oil and Gas During Boom,” Carlsbad Current Argus, May 20, 2019.

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