Produced Water is Back on Thursday…. Let’s Organize….

As long as we frack, we will produce toxic water as a biproduct of extraction. The gas & oil industry would love to find a way to reuse produced toxic water and state leadership has sipped their Kool Aid. On Thursday , SB493 will be heard in Sen. Conservation Committee, by far our best shot at killing the bill. Find out more about why we oppose this legislation. Read on, then act!

What is Produced Water and Why Should I Care about SB 493

We live in semi-desert environment, under duress from changes in climate and draught. Water is, therefore precious and so every effort to conserve or preserve water should be on the table. Why would we oppose researching possible reuse of a huge source of brackish water? Well it is complicated. First a refresher course.

Most oil- and gas-bearing rocks also contain water. When the oil or gas is extracted from these rocks, the water comes out too. This “produced water” is a byproduct of almost all oil and gas extraction, though the amounts of produced water can vary widely in different places or over the lifetime of a single well.

How Much Produced Water are We Talking About?

For every barrel (42 gallons) of oil produced , four to seven barrels of produced water may be generated. In 2018, New Mexico became the third largest oil-producing state, generating over one billion barrels of produced water (~60,500 Olympic size swimming pools). For now, gas & oil producers have few options for managing this volume of “water.” Currently oil and gas companies reuse approximately 10% of the produced water generated from drilling, in new oil wells in fracking operations. That leaves 90% of the toxic water with no reasonable use. Current underground disposal practices associated with continued oil and gas development (essentially reinjecting the toxic water into the earth). This is not a sustainable practice and has been linked to other environmental challenges,
such as earthquakes.

Hence, New Mexico is considering alternate pathways for produced water management to address growing concerns associated with water scarcity and groundwater depletion, which are forecasted to grow more severe due to climate change. Before being reused, produced water must be treated to varying levels to remove oil residues, salts, suspended solids, and other chemicals.

The NM Environment Dept website asserts that

  • “Emerging technologies allow for effective treatment for intended use within and outside oil and gas that is protective of human health and the environment.” and
  • With targeted research, proper regulation, and determination of appropriate treatment levels, potential use of produced water outside the industry is possible.”

Sounds like NMED is convinced even before the research is done. In a perfect world, environmental groups would line up in support of any effort to reuse water, especially when considering the volume of water that could possibly be salvaged. So why are Retake and other environmental groups opposing SB 493? It is a long and sordid story.

Senate Bill 493 appropriates $50 million from the general fund to the Office of the State Engineer for the purpose of planning, design, administration, and matching federal and private funds for brackish water reuse, exploration, treatment, and aquifer recharge water projects to benefit the lower Rio Grande, middle Rio Grande, Permian basin and northwest quadrant of the state. Senate Bill 493 also appropriates $2.5 million from the general fund to the Board of Regents of the
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology for the purpose of funding innovation, research, monitoring, support, and development of technology associated with water projects listed above at the Office of the State Engineer. But the backstory goes back four years ago.

In 2019, HB 546 Fluid Oil and Gas Waste Act, AKA Produced Water Act, was crafted in part by oil industry officials, passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor. HB 546 went into effect July 1, 2019.  When we opposed HB546, we cited a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft white paper that assessed the state of research on produced water. The EPA 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 cautioned, “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 2019 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 in HB546. 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. Egolf went on to assert that produced water would not be used in agriculture for decades, so there was no reason to worry.

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 was 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 ensured that if a fracking operator sells produced water from their operations, whoever buys it is fully liable for 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.

So here we are in 2023, and industry is back at the legislature asking for more money to study how to help solve their produced water problem. For me, I am not eager to trust the same folks who are trying to convince us that Carbon capture technology that has failed everywhere else, can work here. Not when we were told that it would be decades before produced water would be used to irrigate, only to have an application to irrigate 3000 acres with  produced water submitted only  days—not decades later.  And then there is the troubling EPA report. 

I wish we could support this legislation, I also wish we could trust the NM stakeholders who are serving as stewards more for the gas & oil industry than for NM constituents or the environment. But when you bend the truth, disguise your real intentions, and ignore research and science to advance the financial interests of the extractive industry, constituents with memories will hold you accountable and may be skeptical of your real intentions.

So, we are asking Retake peeps to write to members of the Sen.Conservation Committee tonight (contact info below) and let them know that:

  • You oppose the use of produced water anywhere except for reuse in oil production;
  • The EPA 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.
  • In short, the EPA issued strong cautions about the safety of this technology. You ask that the legislature heed EPA warnings
  • Finally, you don’t trust that the results of studies produced under SB493 will be used honestly by this administration;

It is a sad day, when your level of trust in your government to be honest about the difficulty of their choices has eroded. As a result, constituents must be quasi scientists, to question and/or challenge what leadership is recommending. But that is where we are.

In solidarity & hope,

Paul & Roxanne

Bulk mail: “Joseph Cervantes” <>, “David M. Gallegos” <>, “Carrie Hamblen” <>, “Steven P. Neville” <>, “Harold Pope” <>, “Gregg Schmedes” <>, “Antoinette Sedillo Lopez” <>, “William P. Soules” <>, “Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics” <>

Categories: Local-State Government & Legislation

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4 replies

  1. Thank you for this article re: SB 493, fracking and “produced” water — very helpful!
    (“Produced Water” is a pairing of words that is annoying when it relates to fracking. I know I’m being nit-picky but it sets my teeth on edge…) I be listening in tonight, at 6 p.m.

  2. If we are concerned about produced water, we should be concerned about other sources of toxic and carcinogenic water. Nano-filtration of river water will produce a stream of potable water. But it does nothing to destroy or modify any toxins or carcinogens in the river water. Instead it produces a smaller stream of water containing concentrated contaminants, including, of course, various PFAS compounds, the forever chemicals that have an unfortunate tendency to bio-accumulate everything, including us. It thus is very important that we deal with this toxic stream appropriately. People in Santa Fe may find this of interest because the water treatment plant build for Aamodt will pipe the toxic and carcinogenic stream back into the Rio Grande, whence it will flow downstream to Buckman Direct Diversion and thence to your faucets. If you don’t believe me, you can read through the mind-numbing detail of the Amended Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System Engineering Report which is posted nowhere except in the files section of the Facebook group I administer — Pojoaque and Espanola Valleys Forum. Or you can ignore this. Then I’d suggest you install a reverse osmosis system on at least one of your faucets and then you will have your own stream of toxic/carcinogenic water to dispose of. Or you can drink bottled water, (Sure you can.)

    is Liz’ address that got hacked.
    I’m using

  4. I don’t know how you manage to churn out these informative detailed posts on so many pieces of legislation. Incomprehensible. Do know they are the main source I reference in contacting the legislature on upcoming bills. Any emails sent to Harold Pope will get a reply stating he views every email sent to him but not during the legislative session and he graciously provides his phone number. I used it to text a brief message.

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