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New Mexico Debates Safety of Oil and Gas "Produced Water"

Any of 536 different fracking chemicals used in New Mexico could be found in "produced water," according to data reported to FracFocus, making it questionable for reuse on agriculture crops. (usda.gov)
Any of 536 different fracking chemicals used in New Mexico could be found in "produced water," according to data reported to FracFocus, making it questionable for reuse on agriculture crops. (usda.gov)
December 6, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. – What is known as "produced water" from oil and gas development in New Mexico will total more than 40 billion gallons this year, and many would like to see it treated and used in place of water from aquifers or surface water. Some residents fear that water from fracking could have negative effects on human health and the environment.

Bill Midcap with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union says the water is known to contain contaminants – and because science on the issue is lacking, the state must prove it's safe.

"A lot of folks in New Mexico think of this as a win-win – and it certainly could be, don't get us wrong,” says Midcap. “Right now, the oil and gas industry is bringing up more water than the state of New Mexico uses, if we could just clean it up."

The state Legislature passed the "Produced Water Act" earlier this year, encouraging oil and gas producers to reuse their water when possible, instead of relying on fresh-water sources for extraction.

Rather than a statewide regulation on water reuse, Mike Eisenfeld with the San Juan Citizens Alliance in Farmington would like regulations applied based on the needs of each basin.

"We're just very concerned about the chemicals that are in the produced water, the radioactivity associated with produced water, at least on the geological formations through here,” says Eisenfeld.

And as climate change threatens to worsen droughts, many would like water produced by the oil and gas industry used to irrigate range land or crops. Midcap believes the state should proceed with caution.

"The way agriculture is today, and as stressful as it is, we just can't afford to make any consumer ill over putting some kind of contaminant in our food, with the water,” says Midcap.

California has used treated produced water in crop irrigation for 30 years, but doesn't allow produced water from fracked wells on food crops due to concerns about toxicity.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM