WPX settles “produced water” fracking explosion case in Permian Basin

Updated: Jan 16

Penny Aucoin and her attorney, Mariel Nanasi, will address the media January 6th, 10:00AM.


On January 21, 2020, a fiberspar flowline owned and operated by WPX Energy Permian,

LLC (“WPX”) split, causing a mix of “produced water”, liquid hydrocarbons, and natural gas to

be released onto a portion of the home of Carl Dee George and Marlene (Penny) Aucoin and

their children, structures, vehicles, and personal belongings, including livestock and, those fluids also showered onto their persons.


WPX has settled with Mr. Carl D. George and Ms. Aucoin. The dispute has been resolved amicably.


Toxic spills are pervasive, negligent, preventable, and not even illegal. Allegedly the

vast majority reasons for spills: equipment failure.


Illegal dumping = no MLG Administration penalties, whatsoever: WPX illegally dumped at least 13 bbls of produced fracked waste water on land causing a saturation depth approximately 3 inches; Incident ID NRM2006956859. Similar to past violations, WPX and other industrial facilities receive limited or no punishment for their violations, are allowed to continue to operate, leading to the occurrence of major accidents. WPX and the other O&G industries’ deplorable record of spills make the risk of damage even more likely. New Mexico governmental entities do not engender confidence in its ability to 1) prevent incidents from occurring; 2) notify impacted landowners and/or community members of the damage caused; and 3) remediate the problem. Governmental entities knew or should know that the carelessness repeatedly demonstrated by this high-risk industry has caused and will continue to cause injury and harm to our environment, including fresh water resources and our community.


I support the Produced Water bill that will be introduced in the 2021 Legislature.

Why are these amendments being proposed?


In 2019 the Fluid Oil and Gas Waste Act passed the NM legislature and was signed by the

Governor. Marathon Oil was the primary author of the bill, with input from the New Mexico

Environment Department and others.


Why did Oil & Gas write this law?

The constant flow of freshwater needed for fracking is ever harder to come by in New

Mexico’s parched region, and as the easier-to-reach oil deposits have been tapped out, companies have had to drill ever-longer wells, using ever-more water to force out the hydrocarbons.


Flowback from Fracking: Toxic radioactive Wastewater

The flowback from the fracking process is also known as “produced water.” The flowback

is  actually a toxic cocktail of radioactive materials, heavy metals, proprietary fracking chemicals, and other contaminants that are known to be carcinogenic and dangerous  to human health and the environment.


In 2019, the Oil & Gas industry produced an estimated 300 million barrels of oil, and

1,259,341,048 barrels (50b gallons) of produced wastewater. 1 By 2030, that number could rise to 38 million barrels daily. 2 Companies dump the contaminated wastewater into disposal wells or into illegal “abandoned” areas. Not only is there so much of this produced wastewater being generated industry has failed to dispose of this toxic waste safely. Moreover, the government that is responsible for regulating this rogue industry is failing to reign in the polluters.


According to the  New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD), there were 1,523 reported

spills in New Mexico in 2018. That’s roughly 4.2 spills per day. That means on an average each day there are 252 barrels of produced water discharged; 44 barrels of crude oil discharged; 677,000 cubic feet of natural gas leaked. 3 More than 1.4 million gallons of produced wastewater have ended up running over the surface of the earth from 327 spills in the first eight months of 2020 alone. 4  The total volume spilled would cover 4.4 acres with one foot of liquid oil and gas toxic wastewater. 5


Existing Science Confirms that Produced Water is Dangerous

The existing science clearly indicates that produced water is dangerous. For instance, spreading fracked wastewater, which contains high levels of the carcinogenic element radium, inorganic salts, and oil and gas hydrocarbons, on unpaved roads to control dust

is a threat to human health and the environment. Lab experiments have demonstrated that nearly all of the metals from these wastewaters leach from roads after rain events, likely reaching ground and surface water. In Pennsylvania, from 2008 to 2014, spreading O&G wastewaters released over four times more radium, a known carcinogen, to the environment (320 millicuries) than O&G wastewater treatment facilities and 200 times more radium than spillevents. Consequently, Pennsylvania and four other states have banned road spreading of

wastewater from hydraulically fractured wells.


The Produce Water Amendments won’t solve everything but will:

  • minimize the use of fresh water in oil and gas well drilling.

  • making the discharge or release of produced water illegal and defining penalties for violations.

  • requiring the Oil Conservation Division to use “the best available science” when developing rules to protect public health, worker safety and the environment, including fresh water resources, wildlife and domestic animals 

  • requiring the identification and public disclosure of the chemical composition of produced water 

  • requiring the Oil Conservation Division to increase regulation of produced water and other oil and gas waste through the entire process to avoid circumstances that may “directly or indirectly, with reasonable probability injure human health, animal or plant life or property, or unreasonably interfere with the public welfare or the use of property.” 

  • forbids the use of “produced water” to be used for “road construction maintenance, roadway ice or dust control, or other construction or in the application of treated produced water to land, for activities unrelated to the exploration, drilling, production, treatment and refinement of oil or gas.” 6

PASS THE GREEN AMENDMENT, environmental protection is is our inalienable right: The people of the state of New Mexico, including future generations, have the right to a clean and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air, healthy ecosystems, and a stable climate, and to the preservation of the natural, cultural, scenic and healthful qualities of the

environment. 



What we still need, at least:

1. Fracking wastewater must be designated a hazardous waste and regulated as such;

2. Establishment of national regulatory standards for the following contaminants: Ethyl benzene, Toulene, Xylenes, Methylene Chloride, Formaldehyde, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Radon and other volatile organic compounds based on science;

3. Establishment of national regulatory standards for radiation poisoning and monitoring and enforcement in the O&G industry;

4. Strengthen the EPA to Require an Increase in Monitoring and Actual Enforcement of oil and gas companies, especially those who repeatedly offend and violate regulations, and to increase penalties for repeat contamination offenses, including the threat of allowing any further well permits;

5. Pass the Green New Deal.


1 Bill Brancard, General Counsel, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resource Department, 9/3/2020, presentation before the Water & Natural Resources Committee, NM Legislature.

2 https://nmpoliticalreport.com/2020/02/03/wastewater-wastewater-everywhere-in-the-permian-basin-a-new-kind-of-boom/

3 https://westernpriorities.org/2018-new-mexico-oil-and-gas-toxic-release-tracker/

4 As of August 2020 produced water spills Excel spreadsheet downloaded from http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/OCD/statistics.html

5 New Mexico Oil and Gas Waste Report, The failure to safely manage oil and gas waste, September 2020.

6 HB 546, “Fluid Oil & Gas Waste Act,” sponsored by Representatives Nathan P. Small, Brian Egolf, and Rod Montoya, §11 P, which was in the

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