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Bleeding New Mexico Dry - Proposed "Strategic Water Supply" is a bailout and a scam that endangers our health and our water

Yesterday we were joined by members of the No False Solutions Coalition, Amigos Bravos, WildEarth Guardians and Norm Gaume, professional engineer and former New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission Director to call out the dangers of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's proposed "Strategic Water Supply," a plan that proposes to use Severance Tax Bond Appropriations of $500M to buy contracts for treated brackish water or oil and gas wastewater, aka "produced water," from treatment plants to use as an economic lever to attract water intensive industries like hydrogen producers and other "beneficial uses."

We introduced an exhaustively researched report, "Bleeding New Mexico Dry: The Truth Behind Governor Lujan Grisham's Proposed Strategic Water Supply" that draws the connection between the oil and gas industry's costly produced water problem, a problem that threatens their profits and plans for continued extraction," the Governor's $1.38M and growing campaign contributions from the energy sector, and the Governor's long term efforts to put in place policies and now pay for schemes for "beneficial reuse" of the industries toxic radioactive waste.

But the science on "beneficial reuse" of produced water (or extraction of brackish water from deep acquifers that cannot be replenished!) points to dangerous public health and environmental impacts.

Yet, now, MLG’s dangerous Strategic Water Supply proposal amounts to a taxpayer funded $500 million bailout for the oil and gas industry that relies on unproven technology and endangers our health and our water. Our only hope is that legislators of conscience will oppose and vote against her fossil fuel campaign addictions because the legislature must approve of funds to be expended by severance taxes. 


In fact, the O&G industry is out of options because they have generated so much waste - 131,250 olympic size swimming pools of toxic radioactive brine in just 2022! Fracking waste disposal is a problem without a solution. The current disposal method of fracking wastewater is to inject the toxic material into porous underground rock formations via injection wells, but this is also a proven cause of earthquakes, and as a result several Texas counties will no longer accept waste from New Mexico oil and gas wells. Many injection wells are now reaching capacity and cannot continue accepting more waste.

Among numerous hazardous compounds, produced water may contain bromide, arsenic, strontium, mercury, barium, radioactive isotopes and organic compounds, particularly benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX). Evidence suggests that the quality of groundwater and surface water may be compromised by disposal of produced water. Particularly dangerous is the use of produced water for agriculture and livestock, where persistent compounds may accumulate.

Exposure to these toxic and radioactive substances has been correlated with increased risks of cancer, birth defects, and early death, and the evidence of health and environmental impacts keeps accumulating.


While proponents of “beneficial re-use” continue to hope for a scientific breakthrough that will resolve the problems associated with reuse of produced water, the reality is that oil and gas wastewater 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.

Chemical Toxicity: The Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged that produced water can contain toxic materials, including barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nitrate, selenium, and BTEX, as well as acetone, ethylene glycol (anti-freeze), phthalates, polypropylene glycols, and dozens of other toxic chemicals.[136] Such toxics can have significant adverse impacts on human health, including causing cancer and disrupting the endocrine system. Of more than a thousand chemicals found by scientists in produced water samples, only 14% have established toxicity values for risk assessment in the United States. In other words, the toxicity of 86% of the chemicals have never even been studied.

Extreme Salinity: Produced water from shale formations “typically contains high levels of Total Dissolved Solids (salinity) and associated ionic constituents (bromide, calcium, chloride, iron, potassium, manganese, and sodium).” Studies in the New Mexico portion of the Permian Basin, in particular, have shown average salinity levels of more than 89,000 mg/L in produced water, some 2.5 times higher than the 35,000 mg/L characteristic of seawater. With such high salinity levels, researchers concluded that the basin has “Low” potential for treatment.

Radioactivity: The extraction, storage, transportation, recycling, and reuse of produced water poses a serious threat of radioactive contamination. As the EPA has acknowledged, “[o]nce oil and gas have been extracted from the formation, workers and members of the public may be exposed to radionuclides that are brought to the surface.”[139]

As a British radiation biologist put it, “All oil-field workers are radiation workers. They just don’t know it. Tanks, filters, pumps, pipes, hoses, and trucks that [produced water] brine touches can all become contaminated, with the radium building up” and concentrating into a hardened and highly radioactive “scale.”

None of the proposed re-uses of this toxic waste, for example:

  • agricultural irrigation and livestock

  • ground and surface water recharge

  • municipal water usage

  • road dust mitigation

  • industrial applications

can be considered safe. Even oil field re-injection threatens to contaminate freshwater aquifers and causes earthquakes!


As Norm Gaume argued so eloquently yesterday, the Governor and the Legislature are failing to provide the leadership actually required to safeguard our beloved New Mexico - they are failing to do the work identified by the 2022 Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force, failing to implement the 2019 Water Data Act, and failing to properly fund or staff the agencies responsible for protecting our most precious resource. They are failing to address the obscene water consumption of Big Ag, which is responsible for 80% of the state's annual water consumption, primarily for dairy, alfalfa feedstock and pecan production.

Instead they are proposing this $500 million scam to provide "new water" in order to attract water intensive industries to our arid state. That is the last thing we need.

As the report concludes:

There is no way to reach our climate goals while also expanding fossil fuel operations and following the industry’s lead on policy. Publicly traded oil and gas companies have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders that comes before their duty to the preservation of the earth. Oil and gas companies cannot be trusted to lead climate solution decision-making, and the governor is misleading the people of New Mexico when she suggests otherwise.


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