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Editorial: NM right to target energy wastewater

While necessity is the mother of invention, New Mexico can thank goodness for public officials with the sense to open the floodgates of creativity before crises dry things up.

As Journal reporter Theresa Davis wrote Sept. 13, the New Mexico Environment Department and New Mexico State University have launched a collaborative consortium to find uses for wastewater around the oil and natural gas industry. Considering the relative abundance of water flowing through riverways and into reservoirs this year (and industry cash into state coffers), it’s the perfect time.

Finding solutions for how to use wastewater generated by the energy industry in New Mexico won’t be easy. Wells in the Permian Basin alone generated some 42 billion gallons of “produced water” last year – dirty, salty water that can’t be used for agriculture or manufacturing until it’s treated. It’s certainly not potable in its current state.

Imagine the gains for the state if those 42 billion gallons could be put to good use. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told the Carlsbad Mayor’s Energy Summit last week “turning this waste product into a commodity is good for preserving fresh water resources, good for compact requirements with other states, good for conservation purposes, good for local and county governments; it’s good for small and large producers, it’s good for agriculture. It’s good for New Mexico.”

Lujan Grisham should be commended for her thoughtful attention to this crucial issue. According to a Journal story last month, New Mexico is the only state facing extremely high baseline water stress – a long-term problem not going anywhere. A welcome partner in finding a solution would be the oil and gas industry itself, which is responsible for all that wastewater, as well as so much of New Mexico’s current wealth.

Because when it comes to water conservation in the Southwest, it’s got to be an all-hands-on-deck situation.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.