We Warned the Governor HB 546 Allowed Produced Water to be Used in Agriculture–Two Months Later…..

That didn’t take long. Encore Green Environmental Group filed a permit application to use produced water to irrigate NM land and they have identified a fracking operator eager to sell them the produced water.  Before HB 546 was signed, we asked the Governor: why would you explicitly include agriculture as one of the potential uses of this produced water?  No response. Well…..

Produced Water Coming to Your NM Salad Greens Soon

Devin Bent, a subscriber to the blog, sent me the link to this story. His comment in the email was that he hadn’t been as worried about HB 546 and its potentially allowing for produced water to be used for agriculture because he was confident that no farmer would be stupid enough to use produced water for irrigation. So much for that comforting thought. Just two months after the session closed, Encore Environmental Group has a fracking partner from which they can obtain produced water. They have identified the technology they intend to use to treat the water. They have identified a farmer willing to use that produced water.and they have now submitted an application for a state permit.

HB 546 sailed through both chambers with nary a debate. No wonder it moved quickly, it was supported by Marathon Oil, ConocoPhillips, XTO Energy, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, and  the New Mexico Business Coalition. After its passage, Speaker Egolf who gushed “The produced water bill, I think, is going to go down as one of the greatest environmental accomplishments to come out of the state legislature of New Mexico,” Egolf said. “Just the quantity of fresh, potable water that’s going to be saved for agricultural and municipal use is breathtaking.” Here he was referring not to New Mexicans drinking produced water or for its being used in agriculture, but rather that by virtue of fracking industry being able to treat and reuse water used in fracking, the industry would not be using as much water from our aquifer.

Certainly, southeastern NM has a serious need to preserve water.  And fracking consumed 40 billion gallons of water in 2018. But while bill advocates point to how HB 546 would allow fracking operations to treat and reuse fracked water, language in the bill also would allow the use of this water for agricultural or even for public consumption. The reuse of produced water for further fracking MIGHT be okay, but permit me a bit of skepticism over its use for anything else because of who oversees the testing and use of this water: The Oil Conservation Division of the Energy and Natural Resources Department. Here, the problem is that the Oil Conservation Division’s primary objective is to advance oil and gas extraction and their new director is a former exec for Marathon Oil. Sort of like the fox minding the hen house.

From a recent report in In Depth: “In the fracking process water is laced with fracking chemicals, as well as chemicals and metals freed with the fossil fuels, including naturally occurring radioactivity. The water is considered industrial waste and disposed of in deep injection wells.”

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft white paper assessed the state of research on produced water and concluded “there remain important scientific questions related to the human health and environmental implications of using treated produced water for applications outside the oil and natural gas industry.” It cautions, “treated produced water could contain chemical constituents that may harm human health, but that are not regulated by the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.” More troubling is that according to that report, the NMED has no mechanism to require testing for those contaminants. Red flags all over the place, but the legislature with a not so subtle push from NMOGA, forged on.

At a post Roundhouse session debrief with a panel of Santa Fe Democratic legislators, Speaker Egolf was asked about why agriculture was specifically listed among potential uses for produced water and how could he view fostering the development of “produced water” as such a positive environmental outcome. He reassured us that the intent for use of produced water was to reuse that water in future fracking activities, thereby reducing the amount of water used in fracking. He cited the amount of water used in fracking currently and said that anything we can do to reduce that level of water use, should be welcome by environmentalists. As he spoke, I thought to myself: There is another way to reduce that water use, reduce or cease fracking.

Fat chance of that.  SB 374, the fracking moratorium bill never even got a hearing and with the state Oil Conservation Division releasing new numbers showing that New Mexico produced a record 246 million barrels of oil last year, it is hard to see the state keeping it in the ground soon. So, HB 546 is hailed as groundbreaking environmental legislation because the state has not figured out how it can pass truly groundbreaking environmental legislation, as to do so would require that we keep it in the ground. Instead, we laud reducing the horrific amount of water used in fracking as game changing at the same time that we are assured that “produced water” will never be used in agriculture without significant improvement in our technology for treating that water.

I wondered at the time: if it is going to be years before produced water can be used for agriculture, why include it in the bill?  Plenty of time to do that when the advances in treatment occur. But in a capitalist world, there will always be an entrepreneur willing to seek profit no matter the cost or risk involved to our environment. And so, enter Encore Green Environmental Group. Their plan is to use produced water to irrigate 3000 acres of agricultural land. Given the state of the current water treatment capacity and the number of toxins in produced water, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, apparently NMOGA thought plenty could go wrong, because a clause in HB 546: ”Upon transfer of the produced water, transferees shall be liable for the use, disposition, transfer, sale, conveyance, transport, recycling, reuse or treatment of the produced water;” In one sentence, HB 546 ensures that if a fracking operator sells produced from their operations, whoever buys it is fully liable to any consequences. So, if five years from now a cancer cluster is identified in farm workers working in fields with produced water or that those consuming produce grown with produced water irrigation, the fracker has washed his hands of all responsibility.

This effort will no doubt have to pass through some regulatory hurdles, but given the lay of the land these days, those hurdles may not be to formidable. It will be up to us to ensure that hearings are packed to oppose these efforts unless and until the scientific community has verified without question the safety of this application of produced water. But from an environmental perspective, let’s not lose sight that we shouldn’t even be discussing how to find ways to use produced water. We should using every tool we have at our disposal to reduce our reliance on fracking revenue. Instead, we have Senator John Arthur Smith gloating at the passage of the budget on March 15, “Drill, baby, drill.”

No question, New Mexico’s financial reliance on gas and oil is no easy challenge to address, but we should be applying all possible resources to identifying ways to expedite our transition to a renewable, sustainable and fossil fuel free economy.  Yesterday, instead of gloating about how we are benefiting from this suicidal path. And just as the indigenous populations of Four Corners should not be sacrificed in this process, neither should those living in southwest New Mexico. Progressives from Northern NM need to respect the perspectives and economic realities of those living in that region of the state, as they do those living in Four Corners.  This will not be n easy transition to make and so we need all the impacted communities at the table as we attempt to make that transition a just one.  Click here to read the full article about plans to use produced water in agriculture.

And thank you Devin Bent for alerting me to this report.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

11 thoughts on “We Warned the Governor HB 546 Allowed Produced Water to be Used in Agriculture–Two Months Later…..

  1. When this bill passed, I sent Brian Egolf a challenge. If he believed so strongly in ‘produced’ water he should drink a glass of it in front of the full House and Senate at the next session. I stand by that challenge.

  2. I am not surprised at all by the intentions and actions of the fossil fuel industry. But, what surprised me was your previous article, and present reminder, indicating that the bill passed with the approval of our, supposedly, ‘progressive’ democratic representatives, Egolf and senator Whirt and with the blind approval of our new ‘progressive’ governor. So, as I am learning my political lessons the hard way as I go I did a simple search -wikipedia- on senator Wirth’s family and found that, as is the case with many other senators and representatives sitting in Washington and in the Roundhouse, he belongs to a small but growing (Just as the new governor’s family?) political dynasty. Like the Udall’s, these families build dynasties rich in money and influence on th back of taxpayers and aided by the idea that their members had and are ‘serving’ the country/state. However, the passage of HB 546 -a very small pixel in the larger picture- shows who they really ‘serve’.

  3. This is not about actually using the water in agriculture, this is about getting the mind-washed general public to look at contaminated frack water as good thing. It is no longer a liability, it is a resource. They are also looking to exploit loopholes, subsidies, and agricultural regulations to find a way to use the water in farming, to avoid the costs to dispose of it.

    Now that they renamed it, rebranded toxic fracking fluid and all of the newspapers in NM have repeatedly called it produced water, it doesn’t sound so bad. It actually sounds like a bonanza of free water for agriculture in our dry state. Once they sell this stuff to some other sucker, they are on the hook for the contamination. They are already looking at schemes to transfer it to an intermediary, and hopefully they can pass it around, until we loose track of it.

    Those academic think tanks earn their money. Rebranding works, and along with the other propaganda, like that articles on the billions of dollars over 40 years, and a few well placed corporate funded “opinion pieces” on jobs, or our tax windfall. They made the contaminated wastewater sound beneficial, a boon for our dying agriculture. Heck, we could even get a grant to use it on a hemp farm.

    This is how they got people to accept the situation our nation is in. Money is speech, and the oil and gas industry has plenty of it. Our elected representatives have been gushing over all of it. They follow the narrative of our mass media. https://www.abqjournal.com/1317009/latest-business-news-63.html

    Egolf and our governor are both in the thrall of oil and gas and the other high dollar industries, like healthcare. Of course the people in Santa Fe are complacent, they are invested in it all, profiteering at the expense of the rest of the population, that has been silenced. Here is the complacency in action, https://www.sfreporter.com/news/2019/05/21/women-defend-abortion/

    One of the most pressing questions wondered aloud by participants was: Where are Santa Fe’s women? In a fairly progressive town, where is the rage and the grief, the determination to do something, the masses of women standing up for reproductive rights?”

    Santa Fe is not “progressive” it only looks that way for the tourists.

    This article got my attention, https://www.abqjournal.com/1318853/after-public-suicide-widow-describes-a-good-man-lost.html There have been a quite a few veteran suicides in the last few months, but the corporate media coverage of this story was really deceptive. Nothing to see here folks!

  4. I like my grandson’s name for these “democrats” who vote for and sign legislation like this: PINOs–progressives in name only.

  5. Will there be hearings on the application for the permit for the public to present its objections?

  6. This next session of the legislature, the Governor’s office should draft and support a bill in the interest of public safety (the power reserved to the State) to require all food grown in any field, in New Mexico or any other state, where Produced Water has been used, even once, to be specifically labeled as such with the additional statement “unknown contaminates possible”. Having set this catastrophe loose on the land and consumers, the state has the responsibility of establishing a regulation and notification process.

    Big Big Mistake by the people who are supposed to keep us safe. Stop listening to Big Oil — they don’t care.

  7. Hi Roxanne n Paul. Another scale falls from the eye of the child. When I was just a kid, I almost always watched my elders in their discussions about items of the day and the time, not that I knew much, if anything about them, but I could empathetically realize that these items were of import, so I paid attention. Now, and then, we are trained, like captured orcas in Sea World, to follow the shiny objects, do the tricks, and receive the rewards. Even as a small child, I knew, absolutely, when deceit had crushed expectation and trust.

    This latest twist in the lanyard of subjugation of the citizenry of NM, the comforting environmental slam dunk of re-using a once-pristine gem, water, after it has been violated at least as bad as a rape, as a WIN for us pleve, is much worse than the old torture of the Romans of sprinkling salt into the wounds of “soldiers” fighting the good war.

    The saviors of our souls, those wondrous political angels, Wirth, Egoff, Lujan-Grisham, and the rest, who many of us championed as the good guys, have so, so, so casually revealed to their minions the price we have to pay for our affections. As I voted for these profligates last year, I did, yes, I did, swallow hard, knowing there was a high probability that, despite my earnest longings, the bleu wave was nothing more than an almost certain betrayal.

    And here it is, again. Fool me once, shame on. . .

    Pragmatism is nothing more than a substitute for suicide by a thousand votes.

    I developed a saying, some years ago. “If it is true, it is not cynical.”

    It gives me zero comfort to know that those who wish to speak for us, in our stead, have no such intentions. How many times must I continue to play the fool because I have only these choices, or none at all. The rules demand I play this game this way, and only if I capitulate to the wishes of my champions can I be counted in the ranks of the victorious.

    There are no victories, ever, only defeats. My ridiculous allegiances to virtual strangers who pander words in slogans and on radio and TV shows are the most egregious forms of wishful thinking: maybe this person actually has enough intelligence and integrity to think what I am thinking. For years I have prated this meme to myself: Talk is worthless, words are poison. But still I cling to hope, even though I am a Buddhist, who lives without hope.

    Maybe you can see why I scream “Revolution or Extinction.” I have defied so much for so long that I often though of myself of the spy who could not come in from the cold. And yet, I have been a captive of the system I so vehemently repudiate. We all are.

  8. It is great to be on the same side as you, Paul, because no one can deny that you are a formidable researcher-writer-organizer-motivator. And the opposition is formidable — the legislation passed the House unanimously.

    I may have been correct that no farmer would use produced water. However, my mistake — I forgot that in New Mexico, land without water is pretty much worthless and that whoever owns it is not a farmer. Produced water is also pretty much worthless except for further fracking. But, if the regulations allow, bringing these two worthless things together can result in large profits.

    Toxic crops grown on heretofore worthless land with toxic water are only the first step. IMO, if regulations permit, subdivisions, even small towns can sprout on heretofore worthless land. We can have our own Sun City, but since we would be poisoning the seniors with produced water, we’d call it Sunset City.

    You may have made a small mistake in your research. If memory serves the New Mexico Environment Department was given responsibility for regulation. However, I have no confidence in them. But that is a different story for a different time.

    What you need do is what you do so well — motivate and mobilize for when the regulations come up for public hearing. I will give you all the support I can.

  9. Several years ago, Rio Rancho spent 25 million on a water treatment re-injection program. Waste water is treated and pumped back into the aquifer. With oil and gas friendly city and county governments completely under the control of Reform Sandoval County PAC, I can only wonder, is produced water coming to my city? I have tried repeatedly to get some sort of statement from Mayor Gregory Hull that he is dedicated to protecting our only source of water from fracking. He will not go there. Guess this is not a surprise considering the monies he has received from the above mentioned PAC. He even received a personal $800 donation from the current county commission chairman, David Heil. These two guys are also the chair and director of MRCOG.

Leave a Reply