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New in our rebuttal testimony - Produced Water Research Consortium fails audit and fails New Mexico

Yesterday we rallied with folks from the more than 30 organizations from across the state who signed up to join the campaign to Defend New Mexico Water and to oppose fracking waste reuse and the contamination of our lands and waters. Our campaign makes three demands:

  • Don't poison our water. Protect it. Prohibit the discharge, reuse, and disposal of all produced water, treated or untreated, outside the oil field.

  • Hold industry accountable for its toxic waste problem. Designate hazardous waste from oil and gas production as hazardous waste.

  • Address the root cause of the toxic fracking waste problem. Begin the responsible phase-out of oil and gas production.

Together we raised a billboard in Albuquerque to ask the public to join us in opposing the pending Fracking Waste Reuse Rule. The hearing begins next week on Monday.

If you haven't signed up to make public comment please do so here! We need every voice to speak up for our water.

Also yesterday we filed rebuttal testimony for the fracking waste reuse hearing from three expert witnesses: Norm Gaume, retired water engineer and former head of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Justin Nobel, an award winning journalist whose new book exposes the radioactive dangers of fracking and fracking waste treatment, and Dr. Avner Vengosh, the Chair of the Division of Earth and Climate Sciences at Duke University and author of “Water Quality Impacts of the Energy-Water Nexus," which provides an extensive evaluation of the chemistry of oil and gas wastewater and numerous examples of how the release of oil produced waters to the environment causes major ecological and human health risks.


Norm's testimony exposed a crucial piece of evidence that gives lie to all of the claims from NMED, NMOGA and the Produced Water Research Consortium (Consortium) that the pilot projects in the oil field authorized under the Produced Water Act and overseen by the Consortium have provided enough research and evidence to allow for the safe expansion of those experiments to unlimited "demonstration and industrial projects" across the state. A three-member external review committee wrote in November of 2022:

"The research resulting from the RFP has been focused on technology development, has not generated the data needed for developing regulations." 
and summarizes:"The NM State Legislature directed NMED to develop regulations for Produced Water, and the Consortium is an important part of that process. 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."

This final one-paragraph summary reveals the absence of a coherent, credible, Consortium program of science. Norm's testimony also rebuts the NMOGA President and CEO's recent untruthful claim in their recent Abq Journal editorial that PFAS are not found in produced water. In fact a 2022 study titled “Characterization of produced water and surrounding surface water in the Permian Basin, the United States”in the Journal of Hazardous Materials reports “Five PFAS compounds were detected in the PW sample ...."


Justin Nobel's testimony focused on the health and financial risks that these produced water treatment plants pose to New Mexico. He writes about an EPA report concerning a shuttered treatment plant called Fairmont Brine in West Virginia:

“The Site is unsecured and rampant trespassing and vandalism has been observed by local and state officials,” the agency stated. “Human exposure to radionuclides by inhalation, absorption, or ingestion is possible.” EPA officials confirmed that radiation levels have been detected at more than 3 milliRoentgen per hour, above Occupational Safety and Health Administration limits, and high enough that employees working 12-hour days (common at Fairmont Brine) could have surpassed Nuclear Regulatory Commission annual limits in three days. The EPA cited particular concern about radium, which “can affect the blood, eyes, and teeth. Radium is also a known human carcinogen.”

Mr. Nobel documents a pattern in which " ...facility comes in to make quick money off of oilfield waste, staff works in an incredibly sloppy and unsafe environment with little to no knowledge of hazards including radiological hazards nor protection against them, facility contaminates workers and adjacent environment and community, then goes out of business as the task of “treating” oilfield wastewater is technically challenging and typically results in failure of the facility and its equipment."

The Governor's Strategic Water Supply plan envisions public funds being used to entice these private treatment plants to build and begin operation in New Mexico to solve the oil and gas industry's waste problem. A public subsidy of a private industry problem.


Dr. Avner Vengosh's testimony, finally, drives home the point that public health and the environment could be put at extreme risk if one measures “treated” produced water against domestic water quality standards, as the rule includes and testimony from one of NMOGA's experts, Mr Balch, recommends.

Dr. Vengosh testified that drinking water quality standards test for fecal matter and pH and bio-chemical oxygen, etc., but this evaluation frequently does not call for measurements of radionuclides or volatile organic compounds that occur in produced water. He writes that "Mr. Balch’s unscientific and grossly irresponsible statement that “[s]o long as produced water satisfies water quality standards, it should not be treated differently from other water” should be rejected outright by this Commission because it is not only misleading, it is dangerous and risky." 

Bottom line - "produced water" is not water. It is toxic, radioactive waste. In New Mexico that misnomer, "produced water," was applied to fracking waste by the oil and gas industry representatives who wrote the Produced Water Act. In Texas the regulatory agency refers to fracking waste as "liquid oil and gas waste." That is what we should call it, and that is how our Environment Department should treat it. NMED must stop trying to regulate fracking waste as if it resembles water. If they believe that, then I have some Agent Orange to sell them.

Industry representatives and their allies in our government are trying to convince the public that fracking waste can be a source of "new" water to make up for the water losses we will experience due to the very climate change that they are creating. Join us in telling them to go peddle their poison somewhere else!


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