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Our Testimony: "Produced Water" from the Permian technically radioactive waste according to the EPA

Updated: May 11

Yesterday we filed expert testimony against NMED's proposed Wastewater Reuse Rule from NM Water Advocate and retired State Water engineer Norm Gaume, who detailed the flaws in the rulemaking process and the proposed rule, and from Justin Nobel, the award winning journalist, whose forthcoming book “Petroleum-238: Big Oil’s Dangerous Secret and the Grassroots Fight to Stop It” exposes the radioactive secret at the heart of the fracking boom. 

Norm's testimony details the flaws in the rulemaking process and the proposed rule. He testifies that “This is a political Rule, not a scientific Rule. It does not protect the environment, public health, safety, and welfare. Premature initiation of Rule promulgation was a political decision, not a sound or credible regulatory one.” He recommends that the WQCC must not allow discharge or reuse of fluid oil and gas waste unless and until the warnings, cautions, and procedures outlined in Module 2 & 3 of the authoritative report entitled Groundwater Protection Council, Produced Water Report Regulations, Current Practices and Research Needs have been followed with integrity, an adequate peer reviewed science basis is complete, a competent set of Rules founded on the adequate science basis in place, and the NMED has the resources to implement and enforce the Rules.

Justin testified that a 2022 study shows that radium levels in fracking waste from the Permian range from around 800 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) to more than 1500 pCi/L. The EPA has a specific level at which they define a liquid waste stream as “radioactive,” and that level is 60 pCi/L for both radium-226 and radium-228. That means so-called "produced water" can officially be labeled radioactive waste. 

He then cited the National Academy of Sciences 2006 Biologic Effects of Ionizing Radiation report:

“There is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless...The health risks – particularly the development of solid cancers in organs – rise proportionally with exposure.”

Essentially, the more radiation a population is exposed to, the more cancer we can expect in that population. Justin goes on to report that scientists have documented biomagnification of radium from reuse of fracking waste on agricultural land, with radioactivity accumulating particularly in what is known as the “beef/milk pathway,” all the way through to infant formula.

And yet the New Mexico Environment Department’s proposes to allow fracking waste reuse in “demonstration projects” or “industrial projects” without requiring any specific standards or measurements of toxicity or radiation. The proposed rule requires only a Notice of Intent. Their eventual goal is to treat produced water for reuse in “agriculture, irrigation, potable water supplies, aquifer recharge, industrial processes or environmental restoration,” so long as they don’t call it “discharge,”

Justin's shocking testimony, featuring excerpts from his book, describes the poisoning and deaths of workers in fracking waste treatment plants in Pennsylvania, and the ecological devastation impacting streams, rivers, wildlife and the general public downstream of these plants. Scientists sampled the point where an oilfield wastewater treatment plant discharged into Blacklick Creek in western Pennsylvania, finding that radium levels in the stream sediments at the point of discharge were about 200 times greater than the levels in the upstream and background sediments. Treatment plants even have the potential to spread airborne radiation through steam released in the treatment process!

Here in New Mexico, where downwinders are still waiting for justice and victims of the Uranium mine spill on the Navajo nation are still feeling the effects of radiation poisoning, we don't need to imagine the impacts of radiation poisoning. We know. 

The New Mexico "Environment Department"s proposal to reuse fracking waste across New Mexico lands without any safeguards or even basic scientific standards to protect the public shocks the conscience, and every New Mexican should be outraged. The State of New Mexico has an obligation to protect the public health and the environment, not to protect the profits of the oil and gas industry."



Last week the State of New Mexico tried to defend its Motion to Dismiss the NM LAWS constitutional case against it, stating that, despite language in our constitution guaranteeing the right to a beautiful and healthful environment, New Mexican's do not have the right to protection from pollution and the State may have the authority to protect against pollution, but it does not have the duty to do so.

Gail Evans, NM LAWS lead attorney, argued that not only does the State have a duty to do so, but that the people of New Mexico voted to enshrine the right to a beautiful and healthful environment in our Constitution in 1971 AFTER the state failed to use its existing authority to police polluters. The people's vote to claim for New Mexicans a constitutional right to a beautiful and healthful environment was and is clear.

Judge Wilson heard all arguments and announced that he will issue his decision on whether the NM LAWS case can proceed in due course.


New Energy Economy joined Positive Energy Solar and 350 Santa Fe at the Violet Crown to co-host a showing of Breaking Boundaries: The Science Of Our Planet featuring David Attenborough and scientist Johan Rockström who examine Earth's biodiversity collapse and how this crisis can still be averted.

The film is a heartbreaking exploration of the devastating impact humanity has had on Earth since the dawn of civilization and details just how far we’ve pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept our planet stable for millennia, and what steps need to be taken to turn things around. At the core of Breaking Boundaries lies a key message of action: stay innovative, cooperate, and make the next decade one that safeguards the future of our planet.

The science is clear on what humanity needs to do. Only when we listen to these facts – and pay attention to the undeniable urgency – can we create a future where nature and people thrive. Highly recommend!!!


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