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Protect our fresh water from waste, pollution

My “Protect Our Water” bill, SB 86, would stop wasteful and unnecessary freshwater use by the oil industry and protect freshwater from oil and gas pollution.

The bill requires the reuse of oil and gas wastewater for drilling at depths lower than protected fresh groundwater zones and for fracking. The Journal incorrectly reported last week that the bill would prohibit all oil industry freshwater use.

Reporting in the Carlsbad Current-Argus last year shows that use of recycled wastewater in lieu of freshwater is common practice throughout the Permian Basin. Major oil companies and specialty oil field wastewater companies have built huge water treatment and storage facilities throughout the basin to turn oil well wastewater into “clean brine” for deep drilling and fracking of other wells.

My bill would require that all oil and gas operators change to clean brine and stop wasteful freshwater use that causes unnecessary draining of aquifers and the Pecos River. It also requires tracking water used from its source, its trajectory, and its ultimate disposal.

The bill also includes specific requirements to protect public health, the environment and freshwater resources from oil and gas pollution. It provides enforceable consequences for spills.

Spills are commonplace, about three per day on average. Most spills are caused by inadequate maintenance, use of cheaper materials for equipment, tanks, and pipelines that cannot withstand the highly corrosive wastewater, and human error, including overflow of storage tanks. Four operators caused over half of the wastewater spills in 2020.

The bill requires disclosure of contaminants including natural occurring radiation in oil and gas wastewater that is spilled or is offered for reuse for non-oil field water supply.

The bill requires the Oil Conservation Division to adopt rules to protect public health, the environment and freshwater. It includes explicit minimum requirements for rules governing oil and gas wastewater treatment and reuse outside the oil field and prohibits untreated oil and gas wastewater use for non-oil field purposes.

Using recycled oil and gas wastewater for fracking instead of freshwater will dramatically reduce the volume of oil field wastewater requiring safe disposal. This is the most effective step possible to address the oil industry complaint that its volume of wastewater is outstripping the underground injection capacity of nearby deep saltwater disposal wells, the normal and long-standing oil industry wastewater disposal method. Studies have shown that this type of disposal may destabilize the earth’s crust and may cause earthquakes.

The oil industry and its boosters are seeking other methods to dispose of excess toxic wastewater.

As the first step, oil operators should reduce their use of freshwater. The public and the environment will benefit from the conservation of scarce freshwater and from reduced amounts of toxic wastewater.

If we lose our water, people will move away. If we pollute our water, people will get sick. The Legislature has an obligation to stop this.

The constant flow of freshwater needed for oil and gas operations is increasingly harder to come by in New Mexico’s parched Permian Basin. Due to permits and approvals granted by the Gov. Susana Martinez administration, freshwater for fracking now includes Pecos River water that is there because the state paid for it to comply with the river compact with Texas. The legality of those approvals is being litigated.

My bill, prohibiting most freshwater now used to drill and frack oil wells, would put a stop to this abuse.

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