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NM “Produced Water” Explosion Leads to Proposed Legislation

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has committed to developing regulations aimed at strengthening environmental regulations governing the fossil-fuel industry. (Lujan Grisham/Twitter)
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has committed to developing regulations aimed at strengthening environmental regulations governing the fossil-fuel industry. (Lujan Grisham/Twitter)
 By Roz Brown - Producer, Contact
January 8, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- New Mexico lawmakers will be asked to amend the state's 2019 Oil and Gas Act when the Legislature convenes Jan. 19.

The proposed revision would prohibit the discharge of "produced water," the flowback from fracking known to contain dangerous chemicals and heavy metals toxic to humans.

The legislation is in response to a produced water fracking explosion at a home in the Permian Basin.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, the bill's sponsor, said the law, if passed, will require the state's Oil Conservation Division to use "the best available science" for rules governing fracking.

"It'll minimize the use of fresh water in oil and gas drilling," Sedillo explained. "And it's going to make the discharge or the release or produced water illegal, and it's going to have consequences for the violation."

A financial settlement was reached this week after a flowline owned and operated by WPX Energy Permian split and caused a mix of produced water and toxic waste to be released onto property in the Permian Basin.

The wastewater contaminated structures, vehicles and personal belongings, including livestock.

Penny Aucoin lived with her husband and children where the explosion occurred.

She said additional legislation is needed to prevent what happened to her home, when the wastewater sprayed her and other family members.

"But what scares me now is that people are blissfully unaware of the dangers that come with fracking," Aucoin remarked. "Companies dump the contaminated wastewater into dispose wells or into illegal, abandoned areas."

Mariel Nanasi, executive director for New Energy Economy and an attorney, represented Aucoin against WPX Energy over the explosion.

She said toxic and radioactive waste discharges are pervasive but not illegal. She blames the government for its failure to supervise and monitor the oil and gas industry.

"Not only are these crimes likely, they're preventable," Nanasi argued. "That means that if the government actually enforced their regulations, then the majority of what's happening in the Permian Basin would stop."

According to the state's environmental department, in 2019, the oil and gas industry produced more than 50 billion gallons of produced wastewater.

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