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Tracking fracking

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Another year of extreme drought has prompted state agencies to scrutinize water use across New Mexico’s economic sectors.

To help with that effort, New Mexico oil and gas operators must now report to the state the amount of water used to drill and complete wells, along with the quality of that water.

Adrienne Sandoval, director of the Oil Conservation Division of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said the reports will help fill a data gap for industry water use.

“A justifiable concern from the public is that New Mexico is a very dry and arid state, and our oil and gas operations are consuming some of that fresh water,” Sandoval said. “We also hear anecdotally from companies that they predominantly use brackish water, but we didn’t have any data on that.”

Up until now companies have reported how much produced water they inject into storage wells, but haven’t been required to disclose water data for well completions. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, blasts water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up and prop open the shale formation to retrieve oil.

Produced water is the salty chemical mixture that surfaces along with petroleum. Companies often recycle that water for future fracking.

Wastewater used to drill oil wells is stored in a man-made pond south of Carlsbad. Companies are now required to report the amount and quality of water used to drill and complete wells. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Office of the State Engineer data shows that oil and gas operations account for less than 1% of New Mexico’s water use.

The new reporting requirement stems from the Produced Water Act, a law passed last year by the state Legislature which sought to clarify oil field wastewater rules.

Operators will list the amount of total dissolved solids in the water. That is an indicator of water quality.

Companies must report water use within 45 days of completing a well.

The online reporting system enables operators to enter water use data into a searchable public database, a move Sandoval said makes data more accessible and usable than if it were reported via the traditional paper format or emailed documents.

“We want to make sure everything we do is rooted in data and science,” Sandoval said. “Once we have that info and data collected for a little bit of time, we can look at the state of things in a better light to see whether or not we need to add (water) regulations or if things seem to be in a good state.”

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


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