Home New mexico state Work continues in New Mexico to reuse oil and gas wastewater

Work continues in New Mexico to reuse oil and gas wastewater


Every day, oil and gas drilling in New Mexico produces 3.5 million barrels of by-produced water, coming from the same shale formations as fossil fuels.

Known to industry as “produced water,” water is high in salt and may contain chemicals that are harmful to humans.

For each barrel of oil, between four and 11 barrels of this produced water could be generated.

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And as hydraulic fracturing flourished in the Permian Basin of southeastern New Mexico, it raised concerns that the state’s scarce water resources were being sacrificed for the benefit of its larger industry.

“Not only is the oil and gas industry causing climatic disruption, it consumes billions of gallons of precious New Mexico fresh water each year in the fracking process and literally converts it into toxic liquid waste that must be disposed of. “said Camilla Feibelman, executive director of the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club.

“The drilling, development and hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells generate huge volumes of toxic liquid wastes called produced water. “

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She testified before the Radioactive and Toxic Waste Committee of the New Mexico Legislature during a meeting Wednesday at New Mexico State University in Carlsbad that not enough was known about the content of produced water.

Feibelman was concerned that water brought to the surface during oil and gas operations might contain radioactive materials, heavy metals and other pollutants.

Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande chapter, participates in an oil and gas wastewater roundtable with state lawmakers on July 14, 2021 at New Mexico State University in Carlsbad.

“There are huge gaps in the scientific understanding of the toxicity and risks associated with the safe use of produced water outside of oilfield operations,” she said. “Our lands and waters are in danger. “

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To mitigate the impact of the byproduct on the environment and human safety, the New Mexico Division of Petroleum Conservation (OCD) regulates produced water in the oil and gas industry while the Department of Petroleum The New Mexico environment is responsible for handling all uses outside of industry.

About half of the water is reused for oil recovery by hydraulic fracturing, according to records, and about 40 percent is injected for disposal underground.

Another 10 percent is recycled for reuse in industry.

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To better understand and study produced water, the OCD recently developed new rules requiring oil and gas companies to declare the content and quantity of products generated during extraction.

Adrienne Sandoval, Director of OCD, the new rules will help regulators understand and address environmental issues related to water generated during fossil fuel development.

“Before this reporting rule, we had no data on what types of water we were seeing,” she said. “Now we know what types and how much of each type of water is produced. “

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As of October 2020, OCD has reported that 408 wells have been hydraulically fractured, with each fracturing requiring approximately 377,000 barrels of water.

A barrel is approximately 42 gallons.

Can oil and gas wastewater operate outside the oilfield?

Bruce Baizel, legal director for the New Mexico Department of the Environment (NMED), said the department has yet to develop rules for the use of produced water outside the oil and gas industry. .

He said the produced water law passed in 2019 clarified the NMED and OCD’s water regulatory authority, but was controversial due to concerns about the content of produced water and if it could be used safely outside the oil and gas industry.

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“It will be important for us, an agency, what the science says,” Baizel said. “And can we protect human health and safety. These will both be important for us to move forward.

Before the committee, Baizel said work continued with the New Mexico Produced Water Consortium, a joint effort between NMED and New Mexico State University to develop technologies and regulations for using water in areas other than oil fields.

He said the Consortium plans to hire additional staff to speed up research and is due to release its findings and recommendations in 2022.

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Consortium director Michael Hightower said that since the group’s inception, other states have sought similar rules and found ways to reuse the water produced.

Michael Hightower (center) chats with a group of New Mexico oil and gas wastewater lawmakers July 14, 2021 at New Mexico State University in Carlsbad.

“What we are seeing is that rule making has actually picked up in many other oil and gas producing states,” Hightower said. “If you look at the state of New Mexico, we’re sort of a leader in this area. This is largely due to the problems associated with aridity and drought. “

He said the cost of disposing of produced water is higher than the cost of treating water, a reversal in the value of recycling 20 years ago.

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“The question is whether we can do it safely,” Hightower said. “That’s really what the consortium is focused on. All industries need water. Providing an alternate source of water is good, but also protecting human health and the environment.

Mathias Sayers, vice president of legal affairs at NGL Energy Partners, said the New Mexico-based water middleman, like many in the industry, has moved from downhole disposal injection to treatment and recycling of the by-product.

“In the past, it was just about discharging produced water, now it’s about managing produced water,” he said. “There are a lot more paths for this than the downhole.”

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He said many energy companies send their produced water to companies like NGL for treatment and use in subsequent well completions.

He said managing produced water could also bring economic growth to New Mexico, generating jobs and supporting other industries that could struggle for access to water in the drought-prone state. .

“There is no water produced from the New Mexico oil field,” Sayers said. “Why would we consider investing in finding new ways to use produced water? I think we all know it’s because New Mexico is the only state in the Union facing extreme water stress.

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New Mexico Senator Gay Kernan at a panel discussion on oil and gas wastewater on July 14, 2021 at New Mexico State University in Carlsbad.

New Mexico Senator Gay Kernan (R-42) from Hobbs said greater production management was supported by oil and gas companies and could provide a financial boon to the industry.

“I think it’s really great that we’re doing this and seeing that there’s been some collaboration with the state of New Mexico,” she said. “I think this is supported by the industry because it adds value to the water produced.”

She said fresh water would still be needed to drill in freshwater areas to avoid contamination.

“If we took away the ability to use fresh water to drill, we wouldn’t be able to drill any other wells at all,” Kernan said.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.


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