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Planning to irrigate arid lands with produced water

Encore Green Environmental’s pilot project to irrigate rangeland with treated oil-and-gas wastewater in Wyoming. (Courtesy of Encore Green)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Encore Green Environmental is jockeying to become the first company to recycle oil-and-gas wastewater to irrigate arid lands in New Mexico.

The company applied in April for state permits to launch a pilot project near Jal in Lea County.

“It’s the first application we’re aware of for produced water repurposing in New Mexico,” general manager Marvin Nash told the Journal. ” Somebody has to get this started, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The Wyoming-based company has developed a patent-pending process to identify all ingredients in oil-and-gas effluent, known as produced water, before sending it on for recycling. Through the process, the company tests and documents all changes in chemical content during treatment to assure compliance with regulatory standards. And it does detailed analysis of soil content and moisture levels in targeted arid areas to make sure recycled water matches the conditions and requirements of soil and vegetation before irrigating.

The company calls it “conservation by design” to capture a previously wasted water resource and apply it to dry lands throughout the southwest. The central goal is to prove the water meets all regulatory standards to earn state and federal approval.

Transparency is critical, and is woven into the process by applying the same tracking protocols used by the pharmaceutical, beef and dairy industries, Nash said. That provides regulators with detailed records of every ingredient in water before and after it’s treated.

“It’s all about trackability, knowing what the water looked like before doing anything with it, where it came from, where and how it was processed and treated and so on,” Nash said. “We make everything traceable, like putting a tracking chip on a calf.”

It could take a long time to receive state permits, since the Water Quality Control Commission must first establish rules and standards under the state’s new Produced Water Act.

Encore Green wants permission to irrigate up to 3,000 acres. It has agreements in place with a local oil-and-gas operator to supply produced water, and with a nearby rancher for rangeland irrigation. It would use existing water treatment technology from two national companies to clean up the water, Nash said.

The company already has a pilot project underway at a Wyoming ranch near Cheyenne, where it’s working with the University of Wyoming’s Center in Excellence for Produced Water Management and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association to test the water re-purposing process.

The company is leading the way for future wastewater reuse, said Center of Excellence director Jon Brant.

“It’s a long time coming that we begin to view by-product water as a resource we can use for other things,” Brant said. “It’s not limited by technology, but by someone setting an example for others to follow. … This company isn’t focused on technology, but on addressing the regulatory constraints and liability issues, which have really been the limiting factors for industry buy-in.”

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