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$10M sought to continue Brine Well work south of Carlsbad

The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (ENMRD) has submitted a request for an additional $10 million to the New Mexico Legislature to continue work at the Carlsbad Brine Well project.

Sand deployment at the former I&W Brine Well south of Carlsbad, where U.S. Highways 62/180 and 285 converge to form the South Y, was suspended at the end of July 2020 and equipment was removed, read an ENMRD news release.

During an October meeting of the Carlsbad Brine Well Remediation Authority options for further remediation work was discussed and continuation depends on funding, the release noted.

Around $5 million remains in a Brine Well Remediation Fund for monitoring the site. The fund originally had $54 million set aside from various sources.

More: More cash needed to finish suspended Carlsbad Brine Well work

It has been estimated by ENMRD officials that at least $21 million will be needed to finish the project.

“EMNRD presented our draft budget to the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) in November 2020 and the budget will be finalized during the upcoming legislative session,” said Spokesperson Susan Torres.

She said ENMRD has been in contact with the legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about the total cost and are optimistic that funding can be obtained.

“It’s worth noting that the budget submitted by EMNRD included an agency-wide cut, however, after our appearance before LFC budget estimates were updated so it’s possible a less restrictive budget will be recommended during the session,” she said.

More: $17M more needed to finish Brine Well work

State Sen. Gay Kernan (R-42) said funding alternatives have been sought.

“Rep. (Cathrynn) Brown (R-55) and I submitted a letter to the Governor in October 2020 asking for guidance with regard to the additional funding needed to complete the Brine Well project. We also requested the Permian Strategic Partnership (PSP) to utilize their grant writing expert to assist in researching and locating funds that could be dedicated to the project,” she said.

In the proposed 2022 budget, Kernan said lawmakers are hopeful that funds will be dedicated to the Brine Well project.

“It is possible that Capital Outlay allocations will be asked of local legislators as well as an additional local match. I do not believe we will generate significant support from legislators across the state who in the past supported the Brine Well project,” she said.

State Sen. David Gallegos (R-41) said former Gov. Susana Martinez struck a deal with southeast New Mexico legislators years ago to put up capital outlay money before turning over any state money.

Before being elected to the New Mexico Senate last year, Gallegos represented Lea County in the New Mexico House of Representatives and allocated $200,000 in capitol outlay funds to what he said was a safety issue.

“Now we’re being told it’s not as much of a safety issue as a completion issue,” he said. “I’m worried the governor will say no that if anyone is going to do it, it’s going to be southeast legislators, the City (of Carlsbad) and the (Eddy) County.”

More: Millions more needed to complete Carlsbad Brine Well remediation

Gallegos added that Carlsbad and Eddy County have already put up funds for the project.

“I really think this needs to be a legislature or statewide issue,” he said.

The Carlsbad Brine Well operated from 1978 to 2008 as a source of salt-laden water for use in oil well drilling. Fresh water was pumped into the subsurface to dissolve subsurface salt layers, creating a brine that was pumped out and trucked to the oil fields for use in drilling and completions. Removal of the salt created an underground cavity and a risk of collapse of the overlying ground, read the ENMRD website.

The New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD) recognized the hazard in Carlsbad after a brine well southwest of Artesia collapsed in July 2008. A second brine well north of Loco Hills collapsed months later. It has been estimated that a similar collapse at the Carlsbad Brine Well could cause in excess of $1 billion in damages, affect an essential irrigation canal, a major highway intersection, a rail line, and multiple businesses and residences, according to ENMRD’s website.

More: Sonar imaging could reveal how much of the Carlsbad Brine Well remains to be filled

“I still think there are unknowns because the cavern (size) was unknown when they did all the seismic testing or thought they used that fine sand and that sifted down to rubble and so the bottom floor was never the bottom floor,” Gallegos said.

He said the hardest part of the Brine Well is proving to the state that they have the liability.

“We have to complete it in order to keep it safe,” Gallegos said.

The remediation contractor continues to conduct bi-weekly visits to perform any needed inspections, equipment repair and site maintenance. An array of sensors deployed across the site collects data 24 hours a day, seven days a week to detect ground movement and pressure within the cavity, read ENMRD’s release.

“Along with ongoing review of the sensor data, any unusual ground movement triggers immediate alerts that are relayed to EMNRD and the Carlsbad Fire Department. The highly sensitive sensors detect even the smallest vibrations, including any recent earthquakes in the surrounding areas. The remediation contractor stays in communication with the Carlsbad Fire Department with any updates and project status,” the release said.

Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at MSmith@currentargus.com or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: $10M sought to continue Brine Well work south of Carlsbad

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