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Fracking waste reuse hearing concludes for the week, evidence of discharge and reuse dangers continues to be exposed

Yesterday the fracking waste reuse hearing was extended for four additional days that will take place in July due to the number of experts and witnesses yet to testify.

What came out in the hearing thus far? The proposed Reuse rule is supposed to be based on research proving that allowed uses can be conducted safely, but if there is anything that this hearing has exposed most clearly, it is the lack of quality research and data provided by the Produced Water Research Consortium to date. In an external review of the Consortium completed in December 2022, the reviewers wrote:

The research resulting from the RFP has been focused on technology development, has not generated the data needed for developing regulations.
Industry is adept at seeking/developing new technologies.. does not need the consortium to do that. The need is to demonstrate that the product water is safe for the intended use.
Some don’t appreciate the difficulty that NMED will have regulating this. PW [produced water] is a contentious issue. The public will complain no matter what NMED does, so they (NMED) have to have air-tight science with chain-of-custody, peer-review, no conflicts of interest, etc., to back up the regulatory process.

and further:

It is unlikely that the Consortium can accomplish its stated mission of generating the data needed to support the development of regulations if it has inadequate funding, an unclear organization structure and lack of clarity in expectations in research and outcomes. The recommendations of the Committee or some similar actions are needed if the Consortium is to continue.

There is nothing in the Reuse rule specifying standards for water quality in "demonstration projects" and "industrial projects," there are no standards or requirements for worker safety, and there are no reporting requirements.  NMED testified that there has been no assessment of the risks posed by large scale industrial projects, even after admitting that a "closed loop" project is not necessarily a "No discharge" project.

In the rule, as proposed, the fracking waste demonstration or industrial project proponents design the project, they decide how to characterize and if/whether to disclose the qualities of the fracking waste they are using, and they inform the NMED via a Notice of Intent, but do not require a permit from NMED so long as they don't PLAN to discharge to the ground or surface water. NMED admits that accidents do happen, however.

All of this despite the fact that NMED has testified that fracking waste is toxic and dangerous, and even the Produced Water Research Consortium Director Hightower testified today that produced water is a hazardous substance and can contain total dissolved solids three times higher than sea water and could have negative impacts for humans and aquatic life before being treated and "polished," as he calls it.

It has only become more obvious and more urgent that the discharge of produced water must be prohibited, and that the reuse of produced water authorized under this proposed rule poses a dangerous risk that must also be prohibited. The rule was promulgated prematurely, without first ascertaining that Reuse can be conducted safely.

In today's cross examination Consortium Director Hightower admitted that New Mexico is running out of space for disposal via injections wells, and admitted that he has been working towards the creation of county level Produced Water Authorities to promote the idea that counties could access a new source of water and manage treated produced water at the community level. 

The Consortium and industry have been rushing headlong towards authorization of reuse despite the fact that the data produced to prove safety and the oversight of existing pilot projects has been woefully inadequate.

In 2022 OCD Director Adrienne Sandoval admonished Mr. Hightower in an email as follows:

It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to have a reset of expectations with the Produced Water Consortium. We are now frequently hearing about these pilot projects. Unfortunately, the information about what is being proposed and what approvals are required is often erroneous. This creates confusion with the public and ultimately sets back the work of the consortium.

The most recent study published April 2024 and authored by Consortium Director of Research Pei Xu found that after treatment, testing of the distillate found ten newly detected compounds, most likely byproducts formed due to photochemical reactions with organic compounds in the produced water during the desalination process. The authors found the majority of those byproducts "exhibited levels of toxicity ranging from very high to high in one or more toxicity categories (mostly developmental toxicity and acute ecotoxicity)." Even the process of cleaning the fracking waste creates new sources of toxicity! 

Under a heading titled 'Outlook' the study concludes:

In addition, identifying unknowns using solely targeted techniques is nearly impossible due to the complex composition of PW, the lack of appropriate internal standards, and unreasonably high analytical costs for the multitude of potential constituents. Most of the existing literature on PW treatment technology evaluations is based on limited targeted analyte removals and therefore does not demonstrate human health and ecological safety in long-term reuse applications.

We Concur.


Thank you to all who stood up to protect our land and water, especially the No False Solutions Coalition and the more than 40 organizations that have joined Defend NM Water to ensure that fracking waste remains in the oil field. We will continue to report back when the hearing continues.


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